Why libertarian and populist conservatives alike should be wary of Canada's Freedom Convoy crackdown

A truck.
(Image credit: Illustrated | iStock)

If Canada, like much of Europe, often foretells the future of the United States, then conservatives ought to be watching Ottawa's response to the ongoing trucker protest. This populist revolt against pandemic restrictions, among other things, has already scrambled debates over civil disobedience and demonstrations that impact innocent third parties.

But what conservatives ought to be thinking about is what the Canadian government is doing to crack down on the "Freedom Convoy" as the right discusses anew the proper limits to political authority. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is essentially using anti-terrorism powers to attempt to curtail private funding of these protests. This means going after crowdfunding websites and payment processors as surely as any obscure right-wing political outfit.

The type of libertarian-leaning conservative who has played a large role in the movement dating back at least to Barry Goldwater, if not the anti-New Deal Old Right, would understand this is the predictable result of giving the government too much power and flexibility to define enemies who can be spied on, sanctioned, or have their bank accounts frozen.

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Newer populist conservatives may have a different takeaway: the at least partially voluntary participation and cooperation of private financial institutions, who would never similarly intervene on behalf of the government to defund, say, Black Lives Matter protests, no matter how shady the money behind the organizations involved.

Conservatives, they would argue, are being selectively denied access to commerce. And if large companies are too woke to do anything about it, the right's politicians are going to have to. It is certainly true that something more powerful than ideological abstractions is necessary to check the state power wielded by their opponents.

At the same time, the Canadian Emergencies Act, like our own Patriot Act, is being used in ways that ought to remind the populists of a cliche favored by old school conservatives: a government powerful enough to give you everything you want also possesses the power to take everything you have. Cryptocurrencies and balky crowdfunding platforms might offer something approximating a free-market solution.

One thing righties of all stripes might be able to come together on: None of them should feel confident they won't be viewed as the real conservative crazies at some point.

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W. James Antle III

W. James Antle III is the politics editor of the Washington Examiner, the former editor of The American Conservative, and author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?.