New Brunswick MP defends his support for truckers protesting COVID rules
Conservative Jake Stewart says he didn't see any bad behaviour by protesters in Ottawa
New Brunswick Conservative MP Jake Stewart is defending his support for protesting truckers in Ottawa, saying he didn't encounter any of the "repugnant and despicable" behaviour that marred the movement.
The former provincial cabinet minister and first-term MP for Miramichi-Grand Lake said he only met about 20 truckers on the outskirts of the capital leading up to the start of the protest.
"Pretty much all of the ones I met were actually vaccinated and they were more interested in mandates and lockdowns than they were vaccinations," he said in an interview with CBC's Information Morning Fredericton recorded on Friday and broadcast Monday.
He said he didn't see any swastika-bearing protesters that have been shown in news reports.
"I didn't notice anything like that where I was, but I obviously know some of those things happened," he said.
"Negative ideology will always find a way to attach itself to something like this."
Stewart and Ottawa-area Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre posed for photos with truckers on Jan. 29, the day before the protest began in earnest. The two MPs also joined crowds on highway overpasses supporting drivers as they headed into the city the next day.
Stewart said it's "never a bad idea to stop by a demonstration" and hear what people have to say, recalling his encounters with anti-fracking protesters when he was a Progressive Conservative MLA.
One spit on him and another started contacting him at his home.
"There might have been 400 people in that protest, but there were only two or three that I actually worried about."
He said being "a good public figure" means listening.
"You don't have to support it. You don't have to think it's 100 per cent accurate. You just have to understand what people are saying."
Stewart at first questioned the fact some of the protest organizers espoused white nationalist and Islamophobic views. "Has that been proven?" he asked.
Stewart said he did not agree with racist or Islamophobic views and said truckers he knows in Miramichi-Grand Lake are good people.
"So clearly there's a large amount of truckers in this country who don't know what you're talking about right now," he said. "Maybe they're just finding it out."
He blamed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for provoking the more extreme elements of the protest by generalizing about the truckers.
He accused Trudeau of calling "every one of them" racist before the protest even began.
"I think that did add to it and I think that maybe potentially brought out some of these more negative elements."
Trudeau said Jan. 26 that "the small fringe minority of people who are on their way to Ottawa who are holding unacceptable views" did not represent the vast majority of Canadians willing to get vaccinated to protect each other.
The protest has been pegged to federal policies that require cross-border truckers to be vaccinated to enter Canada. The U.S. has the same requirement.
Conservatives including Stewart argue this disrupts supply chains, including for food. But experts say with the vast majority of truckers vaccinated, shortages of some grocery items have been caused by a combination of factors.
Stewart wouldn't say whether he voted for the removal of Conservative leader Erin O'Toole last week. MPs voted 73-45 to replace O'Toole.
The vote took place under rules established by the Reform Act, which gives party caucuses in the House of Commons the power to vote out their leaders without the involvement of grassroots party members.
Stewart described the experience as "kind of surreal" and unlike anything he'd seen during 11 years in provincial politics, where caucuses don't have the power to oust a leader.
Stewart won Miramichi-Grand Lake last fall after O'Toole travelled to New Brunswick to promise a Conservative government would fund construction of a bypass road around Miramichi to address congestion.
At the time, Stewart said the promise was "really good for me as a candidate, but it's also very good, more importantly, for the citizens here."
The new MP said he was unsure what drove the anti-O'Toole sentiment in the federal Conservative Party.
"Every political party has dissent. Dissent is part of our system," he said, adding the unhappiness "had been brewing for a while and it just got there."
He said the federal party is "a big blue tent," and he's confident a new leader can unite the party in a way that makes it open to a range of opinions.
Stewart endorsed Poilievre on Saturday after the Ottawa-area MP announced he was running for the job.
With files from Information Morning Fredericton