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Controversial convoy rolls back to Alberta as some wonder: Did the message get lost?

The United We Roll convoy is heading back west after a two-day protest on Parliament Hill to complain that the federal government's energy and environmental policies are hurting Alberta’s beleaguered oil and gas sector. Was it effective?

'You can have lots of people with lots of energy, but if the message isn't clear....'

A pro-oil protester stands near the convoy of vehicles in front of Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The United We Roll convoy is heading back west after a two-day protest on Parliament Hill to complain that the federal government's energy and environmental policies are hurting Alberta's beleaguered oil and gas sector.

But critics are divided on whether or not the convoy was as effective as it could have been, given that some of its participants seemed more interested in protesting Ottawa's immigration policies than arguing for specific fixes for Alberta's oilpatch.

The United We Roll convoy started its journey in Red Deer, Alta., on Feb. 14 and made stops and held rallies along the way to the nation's capital.

It arrived in Ottawa on Tuesday morning. It held rallies on Parliament Hill, featuring speeches from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, among others.

Lori Williams, an associate professor of policy studies at Calgary's Mount Royal University, says the convoy succeeded in raising the profile of some of the concerns among Albertans, specifically that the rest of the country seems to take for granted Alberta's economic contribution.

"But the problem was some of the participants were engaging in messages that were arguably racist, questions about that racism got raised, and then it became a matter of defending whether they were racists or not," she said. "Now that's not the message they wanted to focus on."

United We Roll Convoy head organizer Glen Carritt says the participants and their supporters were mainly grassroots Canadians frustrated with a federal government they believe is not addressing their concerns. (CBC)

Glen Carritt, lead organizer of the protests and owner of an oilfield fire and safety company in Innisfail, Alta., told CBC Radio's The Current the protesters want the Liberal government to scrap the carbon tax and two pieces of legislation now before the Senate. Bill C-69  would overhaul how Canada does environmental assessments of energy projects. Bill C-48 would ban oil tankers from loading or unloading at ports on the northern coast of B.C.

But many participants also held signs protesting Canada signing on to a non-binding UN compact on global migration. The 36-page document lays out a collaborative approach to dealing with growing global migration and has 23 objectives for treating migrants humanely and efficiently.

Scheer opposes Canada's participation, warning it could erode Ottawa's sovereign authority to make decisions on immigration. But the UN document has also become a magnet for extremist and even racist anti-immigrant elements.

Carritt, who is also an Innisfail council member, maintains that his convoy was made up of, and supported by, grassroots Canadians who are simply fed up with a federal government they believe is disconnected from their concerns — and that there are legitimate reasons to oppose the UN migration compact.

Violence rejected

He said the movement is open to anyone angry with the Liberal government, as long as their actions are not violent.

"We've been having rallies out in Alberta for four months and, you know, they're just not listening to us out here. So, you know, we wanted to get this convoy out there so that our government would realize that Canada is connected and reunited, and what this convoy proved was that that is what happened."

Convoy vehicles roll along Wellington Street toward Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Another convoy was originally created by a group that calls itself Canada Action, which cancelled the plan and refunded thousands of dollars in donations after that effort became associated with extremist elements in the Yellow Vests Canada movement.

Carritt originally referred to his convoy as a "yellow vest convoy" but renamed it United We Roll after it, too, was linked to people spewing hateful rhetoric against Muslims and immigrants.

Former Alberta MP Monte Solberg, who served as a Conservative cabinet minister, also spoke on CBC Radio's The Current. He said it's not unusual for anti-immigrant sentiment to creep into such debates.

'It's an old story'

"Well, it's an old story. I mean, whenever the economy is bad, we seem to see people reach for this and it's unfortunate. You know immigration has been one of the things that made Canada unique and strong, and a lot has been done to ensure that the immigration system in Canada is one that really helps build the economy," he said.

"But it's also true that people have legitimate concerns about people walking across the border, and the prime minister's very unfortunate tweet about welcoming people to Canada."

Williams said the convoy seemed to come to Ottawa with very strong demands, but not a lot of clarity or realism about what they'd like to be done.

"You can have lots of people with lots of energy, but if the message isn't clear, then that detracts from the point that they're trying to make," she said.

"The image, if you like, of sort of redneck Albertans could have been exacerbated by some of the people that participated in this protest. On the other hand, it sounds like a lot of people heard a message that they hadn't heard before."

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