Canada Protests Baffle a Nation of Rule Followers

Traditionally, Canadian politics is a fight for the center, not for the fringes of the ideological spectrum. Political analysts point out that the far-right People’s Party of Canada, whose leader, Maxime Bernier, is a champion of the trucker protest, did not win a single seat in last year’s parliamentary election.

But, populism isn’t totally alien to the country, points out Janice Stein, a political science professor at the University of Toronto. A populist, the brother of the Ontario Premier Doug Ford, was once mayor of the country’s biggest city, Toronto, and for years, the Reform party rallied around a sense of Western alienation and socially conservative values.

“There’s a worrying tendency in Canada to define everything pushing against our founding myth as an import from the United States,” Ms. Stein said. “We have mythologized our niceness: ‘We are not polarized like France and Britain, and the only major democratic country in which the center has held is Canada, and that’s because we’re so nice and so caring to each other.’”

Canadian politics may in fact be more genteel than in many other places, but not because Canadians are innately kinder. That has just become a lot clearer.

“This is a myth-busting moment,” Ms. Stein said.

Sooner or later, the trucks will depart, but will the movement the prime minister dismissed as a “small fringe minority” continue to grow? Some have their doubts.

“This is a one-off political expression,” said Paul Summerville, co-author of the book “Reclaiming Populism,” which argues that Canada’s strong socialized medicine and affordable education system has given the country a sense of fairness and equal opportunity, inoculating it against populism.

“People are tired, they are angry,” said Mr. Summerville, a former investment banker in Victoria, British Columbia. “This is a very specific moment that has to do with people feeling very uncomfortable for the last two years, because of the pandemic.”