By Stephen Petrick
The prime minister’s controversial invoking of the Emergencies Act has been revoked, but the scrutinizing of why it was used is about to begin – and Canada’s Official Opposition hopes to play a key role in that process, says Haliburton’s Member of Parliament.
“I don’t think it should have gotten to a point where it was needed in the first place,” said Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MP Jamie Schmale in a phone interview days after the historic measure was used and then approved in a close Sunday night vote in the House of Commons.
Schmale, like all of his other 118 Conservative colleagues in Parliament, voted to oppose Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s invoking of the Act, which occurred back on Feb. 14, leading to a vote on whether it should be continued on Feb. 20.
That vote drew Liberal and NDP support and passed by a 185 – 151 count allowing the Act to remain in place on Sunday night. It was then revoked on Wednesday, Feb. 24, when the Liberal government felt satisfied that authorities had put an end to the three-week protest in Ottawa that was dubbed the “Freedom Convoy” and originally meant to voice opposition to COVID-19 vaccine mandates. The protest was particularly opposed to mandates that encouraged cross-border truck drivers to be vaccinated, although it morphed into a much larger rallying cry to oppose COVID-19-related restrictions in general.
The Act, an evolution of the former War Measures Act, essentially barred anyone from participating or supporting the protest, and froze financial institutions from supporting protesters.
Schmale explained that, as part of the Act, the federal government must form a committee to review how and why it was used. The Conservative Party, as the official Opposition, wants to have a strong voice on that committee.
“We do have some questions regarding the formation of that committee,” Schmale said. “We’re in negotiations now as to how that is to be composed.”
Typically, Parliamentary committees are formed with party representation that closely matches ratios of party members in the House, and typically the committee chair is a member of the Opposition, Schmale explained.
He said that, as of now, the committee’s chair will likely be a Liberal; and the Conservatives plan to object to that.
“We’re not happy with the oversight committee of the Emergencies Act,” he said, arguing it should be chaired “as per convention.”
The committee’s formation is the next chapter in an emotionally charged and tumultuous month in the nation’s capital. As Liberals, supported by the NDP, are backing Trudeau and his very pro-vaccine stance, Conservatives have been showing empathy for anti-vaccine protesters.
Schmale said while working in Ottawa over the past month, he was not greatly inconvenienced by the protesters and his walk to work from the nearby ByWard Market was not interrupted.
“Personally, I was never harassed, never approached (although) I’m not saying that didn’t happen to others,” he said.
He said Canadians should have the right to protest and be critical of their elected officials. He also argued that the Emergencies Act was too excessive, given that it was intended for use in national emergencies, not events that are limited to a few communities.
“Look at what the vast amount of charges were,” he said. “Mischief, conspiracy to mischief and trespassing.”
He argued that governments already have laws in place to stop these types of activities and that other laws should have been explored “before invoking the most severe and excessive tool that the federal government has at its disposal.”
Schmale acknowledged that the vast difference of opinion between Liberals and Conservatives is making Canada become a politically polarized country. He said, prior to the pandemic, Conservatives and Liberals worked jointly on many issues without much objection; it’s just that those issues often didn’t make the news.
Since the pandemic there’s been less opportunity for politicians of different parties to bump into each other in elevators or mingle at special events. “That helped keep things focussed on the issues and not (make things) personal,” he said.
Now, the Conservative Party is accusing Trudeau of contributing to that polarization. Schmale argued that Trudeau, responding to poll statistics, began criticizing former Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole for not strongly supporting vaccine mandates and, since then, there’s been a stronger than usual rift between the two parties.
Since O’Toole’s ouster as party leader in early February, new potential leaders are emerging and Schmale is publicly endorsing Carleton-based MP Pierre Poilievre, who recently announced his intention to enter the race.
“I think he’s a great communicator,” Schmale said, adding that he also thinks Poilievre has the intelligence to help Canada deal with the financial challenges of a pandemic-recovery era. He also thinks a Poilievre campaign for prime minister would centre around helping Canadians “gain control of their lives again.”
“The pandemic has .. pushed people to their limits on what they can handle,” Schmale said. “We’ve seen mental health issues rise, we’ve seen isolation in seniors … We as human beings are naturally very social beings. We like to laugh and see smiles and be there for each other.
“All of that has been sidelined and I think it’s wearing on people.”