Reading only mainstream media coverage of the Yellow Vests “United We Roll” convoy would give anyone the impression that the February 19th protest in Ottawa was a mass gathering of blue-collar workers fed up with government mismanagement of the economy.
The reality is quite different.
The Yellow Vest protest was no mass gathering, involving only approximately 150 protestors gathered on Parliament Hill. Nor was it a protest driven by economic concerns. The animating force of the group appears to be fear of immigration, xenophobia, and rage against Prime Minister Trudeau.
A scan of the Yellow Vests Canada Facebook group, which is public, reveals a political organization teeming with hateful posts, videos and comments. Contributors share fake news stories, offensive political cartoons and encourage violence against Liberals and leftists.
“What happens if Trudeau is re-elected? I never thought I would have to go through this in my life time, what are we leaving our children if this traitor gets re elected,” one post in the group reads. “Trudeau keeps giving all of our money away to immigrants,” said another supporter at an Edmonton rally.
Mark Friesen, one of the United We Roll Facebook page administrators, has even admitted that the movement is problematic. “There are racist elements within the movement. It is reflective of Canada as a whole and has some bad apples,” he said.
Much of the vitriol in the group is directed at the increased immigration to Canada. They are also highly critical of Canada’s pact with the UN on migration. Protesters in Ottawa brandished signs demanding that treason charges be laid against Prime Minister Trudeau.
In spite of their open hatred, key Conservative politicians like Andrew Scheer and Maxime Bernier are now embracing the group, as well as white supremacist Faith Goldy. All three spoke at the Yellow Vests’ rally last week.
Watch my short speech about pipelines and equalization at the #UnitedWeRoll rally on Parliament Hill.
Regardez mon court discours sur les pipelines et la péréquation à la manif #UnitedWeRoll sur la colline parlementaire. https://t.co/k5WMcoobX2— Maxime Bernier (@MaximeBernier) February 19, 2019
The parallels with America’s Tea Party movement, which overran the Republican Party in 2009 and 2010, are impossible to miss.
The Tea Party passed itself off to media as a group opposed to President Barack Obama’s economic policies, specifically his Obamacare reforms to expand healthcare coverage.
But racism-driven hatred of Obama was a much more salient force in the Tea Party movement. Their rallies often featured signs containing the n-word and calls for Obama to “go back to Kenya”. The “birther” conspiracy theory — also peddled by Donald Trump — found a popular audience in the Tea Party protesters.
The trajectory of the Tea Party also gives us clues as to how the Yellow Vests and the Conservative Party will interact in Canada. As the Tea Party grew in strength, Republican politicians — who had initially distanced themselves from the group — began to embrace its rhetoric.
In the 2010 midterm elections, Tea Party backed Republicans swept into elected office. By 2016, they had taken control of the Republican Party. Most Republican candidates for the Presidential nomination — including Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio — were Tea Party allies. Donald Trump, of course, drew much of his support from the Tea Party base. With his election in 2016, what began as a far-right fringe movement took over the most powerful office in the world.
The Yellow Vests in Canada appear to be on a similar path. Conservative politicians are now embracing the group, with both Andrew Scheer and Maxime Bernier addressing the United We Roll protest.
For its part, the mainstream media appears to be giving the Yellow Vests the same kids-glove treatment with which American reporters covered the Tea Party, parroting their talking points about economic grievances — while ignoring ubiquitous expressions of racism and hate
The parallels between Canada’s Yellow Vests and America’s Tea Party are too striking to ignore. If we fail to learn the lessons of our southern