Ottawa’s leadership failure during the convoy began with Watson


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If you looked to the Emergencies Act investigation to justify the need to invoke the Act, you would be deeply disappointed. Above all, we were treated to a continuous parade of examples showing how ill-prepared and incompetent Ottawa was to deal with the convoy.

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Mayor Jim Watson spent hours Tuesday detailing the city’s response to the protest that swept through downtown Ottawa last January and February.

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Watson clearly wanted to do everything he could during his time as a witness to blame other levels of government, especially the province and Premier Doug Ford.

“They were unhappy with the mask mandates, which were primarily, as you know, a provincial matter, but they were also unhappy with the federal government,” Watson said at the start of his testimony.

Watson went on to say he believed protesters would only be in the capital for one or two days, completely ignoring more than a week of news reports. Are we really to believe that Watson, a smart and successful politician, had no idea what the protest was about or that the protesters were planning on staying for the long haul?

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The incentive for truckers to cross the country and demonstrate on Parliament Hill has been the recent imposition of vaccination mandates to cross the border. While most attendees also disliked the mask mandates, that wasn’t the driving force behind the convoy.

The convoy had been traveling across the country for a week before arriving in Ottawa. There were countless stories about the size and length of the convoy, the huge fundraising effort that raised over $5 million long before they reached the capital.

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If Watson and the Ottawa Police Service were completely unaware of all this, is it any wonder they had no idea how to respond?

Evidence presented Tuesday showed that Watson and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were frustrated with Ford. According to a reading of a Feb. 8 phone call between Watson and Trudeau, Watson said he would be « happy to call them » if the province did not respond properly.

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“Doug Ford hid from responsibility for political reasons, as you pointed out,” the text of the reading quoted Trudeau as saying.

Watson and Trudeau were unhappy that Ford and his ministers refused to participate in what they called the « tripartite table » which brought together politicians from all three levels of government. Meetings between officials from all three levels of government were already taking place, and Ford saw no point in replicating that with meetings between politicians.

While Watson was singled out in his criticisms of Ford, he was less so when it came to the federal government. He asked Trudeau to appoint a mediator on February 7, which Trudeau refused to do. When asked why the federal government refused his request, Watson hesitated.

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That Watson and his team did not understand the scope of the protest and did not have an appropriate police response is no more Ford’s fault than Trudeau’s. Repeatedly over the past few days, we have heard testimony that the Trudeau and Ford governments were frustrated by demands for more RCMP and OPP officers without clear plans for how they would be used.

The law defines a public order emergency as « an emergency that arises from threats to the security of Canada and is so serious that it constitutes a national emergency. » We have yet to hear evidence that this has actually happened in Ottawa, we have mostly heard of municipal incompetence, which is no excuse for suspending civil liberties and freezing bank accounts.

Ottawa needed strong leadership during the convoy protest, and the people of the capital did not get that from Watson, his team or the police department.

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