I have seen a large amount of bad takes on the protests in Canada. This article covers concrete issues as briefly as possible before turning into political analysis. I divide the article in three parts — economic impact, some background points that many seem unfamiliar with, and then the political side. Unless something radically changes, I do not see much of an economic impact at the national level.
I divide the protests into four groups, and discuss in turn.
The bridge at Windsor to the United States. This bridge is critical for international trade. The Canadian government entered into a treaty with the United States that led to the integration of auto production. This was not a free trade deal — it was a managed trade deal that had an objective of ensuring that Canada would have domestic auto plants. Cutting access to the bridge last week was greatly disruptive, and ensured a response by the Ontario government — which had previously did nothing useful about the protests (snowmobiling weather was too good). It seems very likely that bridge will be kept open during the week — when there are few protestors. It is entirely possible that protestors can disrupt access on the weekend, as there are more people able to drive to the protest in small vehicles. However, given that the police are starting to impound vehicles, it is unclear how much stomach there is for such protests.
Border Crossings on the Prairies (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba). There have been other border crossings cut in those provinces, but the economic pain is more contained, and smaller in the context of the economy. The Premiers of those provinces followed the policy of giving the protesters what they want — a strategy commonly known as “appeasement.” We shall find out in the coming weeks how successful appeasement is as a strategy.
Ottawa. The protest in Ottawa has taken over an area popular with tourists, and forced the closure of businesses in the area. The economic impact is local. Given that everyone is used to working from home, governmental functions are not even close to disrupted. The locals have taken to blockading protestors in their vehicles, so this protest may end up with a few dug in locations. This protest is a political issue, discussed below.
Other Political Protests. There have been protests in other cities, mainly provincial capitals. Since none of the local police followed the example of the Ottawa police force, these protests are not of particular importance.
In summary, there will be a small hole blown into trade data courtesy of auto plant shutdowns, but unlikely to be any different than the effects of a big snowstorm.
I will just give some point form notes.
Most Canadians (including truckers) are vaccinated. From the polling I saw, the lowest support for vaccine mandates was in Quebec — a province where the protests were largely laughable. The most optimistic take on the polling I saw was that maybe 20% of Canadians had some sympathies to protests about vaccine mandates — but support for the “truckers” themselves is weak.
The protesters consist of a small nucleus of organisers and some drivers of large trucks, but most of the protests are people in passenger vehicles. This cloud of protesters are obviously mad about vaccine mandates (etc.) and/or the Liberal government, but are less dedicated and show up on the weekend.
Canada is a confederation of provinces. The Federal government has almost no vaccine mandates for the public — the one for truckers entering Canada from the United States is one. (The United States imposes a vaccine mandate on Canadian truckers entering the United States.) That is, most of things people are complaining about are done at the provincial level. Those controls are being dismantled as the population has now largely received booster doses, and the Omicron wave is fading. At best, the protests accelerated the easing of restrictions by a couple of weeks.
There has been a lot of unhappiness around the lack of action by the Ottawa police. This can be explained by the belief — for which there is no publicly produced evidence — that elements within the protest are heavily armed. (Canada has gun control laws.) Although some weapons charges have been laid against some people attempting to join the protest, there has been no charges of laid against the protests, nor any evidence of guns on social media. This can be explained by the fact that the protestors have set up camps away from the main protest near Parliament, and those camps do not broadcast any images. Furthermore, guns are not necessary to cause problems. Things like propane canisters and large trucks can be used as weapons. The end result is that police have not meaningfully attempted to confront the protesters.
Policing lies in the hands in the provinces. The Trudeau government cannot directly intervene (unless some areas explicitly under Federal control are invaded). At the time of writing, there is a movement for the Federal government to get more directly involved in providing support, but we are unlikely to see uniformed military personnel involved (barring a firefight breaking out).
An observation that makes many people mad is the fact that many of the protest organisers are tied to Canada’s extreme right. Various flags flown at the protest confirm their presence.
The Canadian extreme right has links to its American counterparts, and are similarly well-armed. All of them showing up unarmed at the protest would be more of surprise than some showing up with weapons. However, since displaying weaponry would be illegal — and politically toxic in Canada — they would not be visible to the public even if present.
Since the protest was “largely non-violent” (incidents without weapons have been alleged), the reaction of the authorities is to just watch the proceedings carefully. The protests are increasingly unpopular, and so if the authorities do not trigger anything, the protesters will be eventually worn down. As it is, protesters can expect to be trapped for hours at a time inside cars while surrounded by counter-protestors.
There is no reason to be too panicked about this situation (at least if you do not live near the protest). Even in the worst case, you need to ask — what is their plan? Canada is a nation of tens of millions of people, spread across multiple time zones. What exactly can dozens of unpopular yokels holed up in tents in the winter in the plain view of law enforcement agencies do?
This protest has already taken out one Conservative Party leader, and by all accounts, the leadership fight is going to be a mess. This protest is a political problem, but not for the parties drawing the ire of the protesters.