Nearly two weeks after the original Freedom Convoy pulled into downtown Ottawa, all levels of government are still trying to cope with the disruption, and now there’s a growing blockade on the Ambassador Bridge to worry about. Ontario’s opposition parties are now united in one point of view on these protests: the Ontario government is missing in action, and they’re each making some demands of the Premier and his ministers.
Liberal leader Steven Del Duca put his flag in the ground for being the first provincial leader to actually visit the protest site in Ottawa in person on Wednesday. Meeting with local residents affected by the convoy, Del Duca compared it to a natural disaster.
“If this were an ice-storm, we would help. These workers and businesses have played by the rules and are now victims who deserve our help,” Del Duca said in a statement. “The people of Ottawa are scared, angry and looking for leadership to end the occupation and reopen their businesses, but they’ve been abandoned by a Premier who is too afraid of upsetting the anti-vax base within his party.”
Del Duca repeated a previous call he made to secure provincial support and compensation for Ottawa businesses losing income during the protest. “I would normally say it’s time he put his money where his mouth is, but Doug Ford has been silent on supporting the businesses and people of Ottawa through this crisis,” he added. “It’s time the province stepped up to provide real support to the victims of this occupation.”
Guelph MPP and Green Party leader Mike Schreiner put his focus on the new blockade on the Ambassador Bridge, and called on all parties in Queen’s Park to put politics aside and work towards ending the protests in Windsor regardless of jurisdiction or affiliation.
“Doug Ford needs to immediately recall the legislature so we can work across party lines and address the Ambassador Bridge blockade,” Schreiner said. “Enough with the jurisdictional ping pong. Enough with the blame game. The blockade is hurting frontline workers, Ontario’s economy, small businesses and families.”
In an open letter written posted on Monday, Schreiner first pressed Premier Ford to recall the legislature to deal with the crisis in Ottawa noting the harm to Ottawa residents including the attempted arson in a condo building over the weekend.
“I fear that between the provincial government’s lack of willingness to do whatever it takes to end this standoff, and the sitting MPPs that are inciting the occupation – the people of this province have lost trust and faith in their elected officials to stand up to this challenge,” Schreiner said. “The people of Ottawa are asking for help and as elected officials, we have a responsibility and duty to help.”
As for Official Opposition leader Andrea Horwath, she made the business case to stop the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge saying that supply chains are at risk, which means shortages that could affect everyone from healthcare providers to auto workers. Horwath also had some sharp words about the Premier’s assumed motivations.
“Premier Doug Ford is avoiding action and staying underground because he doesn’t want to upset anti-vaxxers. That’s the wrong choice,” Horwath said. The right thing to do is for Ford and [Transportation Minister Caroline] Mulroney to condemn this blockade, and dismantle it peacefully using incentives like the suspension of commercial vehicle operating permits, licences and plates; and by providing any support the City of Windsor and local law enforcement request.”
Windsor area NDP members agreed with their leader’s appraisal, but tried to be sympathetic too. “No one wants the pandemic to continue. We are all tired, especially the frontline workers who have been working flat out to save lives, and make sure our families have the necessities. The fastest way to end the pandemic is to get vaccinated and to follow public health advice,” said MPPs Lisa Gretzky (Windsor West), Taras Natyshak (Essex) and Percy Hatfield (Windsor—Tecumseh) in a statement.
At an announcement in Kitchener on Wednesday, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott was asked point blank about the lack of an appearance by Premier Ford with crises now in two different parts of his province.
“The Premier is working around the clock to work on helping to open up our economy, and to make sure that people get their vaccinations,” Elliott said. “He is working hard with us day-to-day, and I know that this is a matter of concern for him, but we also need to work with the Federal government on border crossings, and so we asked the Federal government to assist with this as well.”
Elliott added that the government is concerned about the demonstrations, but they still believe that vaccinations offer the best course out of the pandemic even if some people in the province want to peaceably disagree with that assessment.
“We are watching very carefully,” Elliott said. “We’ve seen what’s happened in Ottawa, we witnessed what was happening in Toronto last weekend, and again, as long as it’s peaceful protest, that’s fine, but it can’t be destructive. It also can’t block hospitals, either for healthcare staff to access hospitals or for people to receive treatment.”