On Saturday, the “Yellow Vest Virden-Brandon Vehicle Convoy” will run from Virden to Brandon, hosting working individuals voicing their concerns over federal policy decisions that seem to work against them. The peaceful protest follows others that have taken place in Alberta and Saskatchewan through the past several weeks. These earlier convoys included hundreds of trucks and up to 1000 people.
The “Yellow Vest” movement has been transported from its roots in France, where hundreds of French workers wearing bright, yellow construction safety vests walked into the streets of Paris and elsewhere in early November. These protests, which ultimately turned violent in some areas, spoke against increasing fuel taxes forwarded under the leadership of French president Emmanuel Macron. The tax increase was later reversed following several days of protesting.
The same idea has moved west, where “Yellow Vest” gatherings have taken place in Nova Scotia, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta through December. Most of the issues discussed in these gatherings have surrounded the federal government’s energy policy as it pertains to the oil industry.
However, this is not the only concern being highlighted by the loosely connected convoys and protests. Virden-Brandon event organizers outlined other issues in a Facebook post last week. These include opposition to federal policies related to illegal or “irregular” immigration; sovereignty issues surrounding Canada’s signing onto the United Nations’ Compact for Migration; reforms to the country’s electoral and equalization payment systems; a demand for politicians to make taxpayer interests a priority and cut spending; and what many people see as a curtailing of free speech.
Federal politicians should not only turn their heads towards what is being protested, but pay special attention to who is doing the protesting. It is one thing for younger Canadians – many of whom are not fully immersed in their careers, have families or a mortgage to pay – to march on issues they deem important nationally and internationally. Through the past two decades, we have seen assertive efforts to highlight concerns with the environment, collective rights, the oil industry and the “one per centers” – the top income earners in North America.
What should make the “Yellow Vest” campaigns particularly concerning to politicians is the fact that men and women, most of whom living and working in western Canada, are taking time out of their family and work schedules to do something they rarely do; make a statement against what they see as an injustice to their livelihoods. In most cases, many of these individuals are too focused on developing their blue-collar careers, raising their kids and paying bills to pay much attention to political matters.
The last similar protest occurred in the 1990s when agricultural producers formed convoys with their field equipment to slow traffic along the Trans Canada Highway. While the issues of the day then – agricultural support and subsidies – were just as important as those being highlighted now, this recent movement impacts a broader scope of middle class Canadian residents, particularly in Western Canada.
It is obvious the country’s political power lays in the East, specifically Ontario and Quebec based on the number of federal ridings there. Considering this East-West dynamic, anyone watching close enough can see that Canada is figuratively splitting in two.
This year’s federal election will certainly be interesting to watch considering what seems to be battle of values between two sides of the country.