COMMENTARY: Amid blockades, Trudeau needs to borrow a page from his father and show resolve

Click to play video: 'Trudeau says it’s been ‘really difficult week for Canadians’ amid rail blockades' Trudeau says it’s been ‘really difficult week for Canadians’ amid rail blockades
WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that this week has been "really difficult" for Canadians amid ongoing rail blockades by people protesting in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline's construction. – Feb 14, 2020

Justin Trudeau is clearly not his father, despite how often both his detractors and supporters try to portray him as the second coming.

The past week has illustrated for us the stark contrast between the father and the son. It has also illustrated for us the urgent need for the latter to find the sort of resolve that the former became so famous for.

READ MORE: Trudeau won’t force end to railway blockades; Scheer tells protesters to ‘check their privilege’

The protests and blockades that have spread across the country over the last 10 days are obviously not yet at the level of seriousness that the FLQ crisis was, but Pierre’s famous “just watch me” declaration would seem to represent the least-likely scenario for how Justin is going to respond to this situation.

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Canadians might not be looking for Trudeau the younger to be parroting his father, but I think it’s fair to say that Canadians are looking for some leadership, some clarity, and some backbone. Say what you will about Pierre Trudeau, but he was capable of demonstrating those qualities.

No one is suggesting that there’s a quick and easy resolution to these protests, or the rail blockades more specifically. But step one for the prime minister would be demonstrating that his government takes all of this seriously and there’s at least an urgency in its approach.

Actually being physically in Canada would be a good first step to that first step.

READ MORE: Protests over B.C. pipeline continue as Scheer calls on Trudeau to act

Canadians accept that our prime minister has duties that require travelling abroad from time to time, but there was a real tone deafness from the prime minister and his handlers in believing that Canadians would see Trudeau’s jet-setting campaign for a UN Security Council seat as a greater priority than the shutdown of rail traffic in Canada and the ensuing economic fallout.

Even Friday, while speaking in Germany, Trudeau was non-committal about whether he still planned on attending a conference in Barbados on Monday and Tuesday. Cancelling those plans should be a no-brainer.

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In his comments Friday, Trudeau was more interested in offering up excuses and platitudes rather than any sort of plans for concrete action. He described the past several days as a “difficult week” for the country, lamenting that this whole situation is “fraught with challenges and obstacles to overcome.”

That’s little solace to the Canadians who are and who will be directly and adversely affected by the rail blockades.

It’s not just retail, agriculture, grocery, and other sectors of the economy that are feeling the pain. There are now warnings about shortages of propane, baby formula, and even the chlorine that’s used by cities to treat their drinking water.

READ MORE: Via Rail cancels most trains across the country as CN shuts down rails in Eastern Canada

Yes, there are sensitivities around issues pertaining to Indigenous rights and Indigenous concerns, but none of that should justify capitulating to blockades that are aimed at putting a stranglehold on the Canadian economy. That’s a rather disturbing precedent being set and a rather troubling message being broadcast about our vulnerabilities and our willingness to act.

It should be easy enough in this context for Trudeau to defend his decision to approve the Coastal GasLink pipeline and the broader LNG Canada project. The pipeline has the support of all 20 affected First Nations along its route, as well as the support of a majority of hereditary chiefs.

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There are agreements in place between these communities and the company that will lead to employment and economic opportunities. This is a model for how such development should work.

Imagine if all of these communities and all of these hereditary chiefs were opposed and the government and the company said, “Well, that’s OK, five heredity chiefs support it so we’re proceeding, anyway.” It hardly seems to represent any sort of progress to deny these communities a voice when it comes to embracing the benefits of economic development.

We need to hear the prime minister speak with clarity on all of this. We need to hear the prime minister make it clear that activists and illegal protests cannot and will not strangle our economy.

It’s not too late for him to show some of that famous Trudeau resolve, although much damage has already been done.

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Rob Breakenridge is host of “Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” on Global News Radio 770 Calgary and a commentator for Global News.

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