Lessons Learned? Probably Not.

It isn’t over. But at least the trains are running, for the most part. Passenger and freight trains were shut down in Canada for a couple of weeks. Not by weather, but by protesters.

Rather than jump into the fray immediately, I thought I should take time to reflect on Canada’s recent political/economic crisispolitical/economic crisis. My thoughts are still evolving, but I think there are already lessons that can be learned – if people are willing to learn them.

Indigenous Canadians, with some fellow travelers, held the economy captive by protesting against a pipeline. The protests spread across the country, shutting down not just train service but downtown streets in Vancouver, commuter rail in Toronto and at one point the British Columbia legislature.

Complicated doesn’t even begin to describe the issue. The indigenous community is divided, which makes the situation more difficult for governments. As we have seen, a small minority can hold the government or resource companies hostage.

Governments are reluctant to act, to enforce court orders and remove the protesters. Given the fragile relationship with Canada’s First Nations, I get that. Small consolation though to the thousands of people laid off from their jobs when the trains stopped running.

Some barricades have been removed by police (finally), but the protests are by no means over. So what have Canadians learned from the past few weeks?

  • We are a big country with a small infrastructure. It is easy for a small group of people to cause a major disruption with major economic impact. Governments need to be preparing for future, similar disruptions.
  • Politicians need to think about the hard choices before getting caught up in situations. Leaders must lead, not sit by and hope everything will turn out the way they want. If protesters know politicians won’t act, this sort of protest will become more common. Our leaders and police looked like they hadn’t a clue what they were doing.
  • Canadians are generally supportive of First Nations’ causes, understanding that there have been historical injustices. But that support comes with the expectation that First Nations people have the desire for genuine honest negotiations with their fellow citizens. The news stories I read implied there was no real discussion happening, the protesters didn’t understand the word “compromise.”
  • When First Nations lament the slow process on land claims and other negotiations, the rest of the population is now very much aware that this is not all the government’s fault. The proposed pipeline that sparked the protests is approved by the elected band council but not the traditional chiefs of the territory it is set to pass through. Which makes you wonder if this is has anything to do with pipelines or whether it is just an internal political struggle among First Nations’ factions. Those who shut down rail lines in eastern Canada were told by their own chiefs to take down the blockades. They refused. So who speaks for Canada’s First Nations? Who can sign an agreement? Apparently no-one.

Are there other lessons to be learned from the past couple of weeks? Certainly. Care to make some suggestions?

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