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Yellow Vests And Rubber Boot Cowboys: Inside Canada’s Pro-Pipeline Convoy

united we roll convoyIt looked, and sounded, exactly what you’d expect of a truck convoy. Dozens of engines belching exhaust, amplified by the frigid prairie air and blowing through the parking lot at Gort’s Truck Wash in north Red Deer.

The low rumble as they pulled out onto Alberta’s Highway 2, heading south. Then, an hour and a half later, an eastward turn onto the Trans Canada highway.

The destination, Ottawa. The message, pipelines. The man to receive the message, Justin Trudeau.

Even if nobody’s paying attention in Ottawa, the organizers hope people are paying attention in ridings across the country and will see — and consider — what Albertans see as economic turmoil and pain that will affect Canadians far beyond the province’s borders.

Thursday was the first day of a planned six-day journey. From Red Deer to just east of Regina; to Kenora, Ont.; to Sault Ste. Marie; to Arnprior; and then Parliament Hill on Feb. 19, where these demonstrators — truckers, salesmen and oil, and gas workers — will make themselves and, by default, large swaths of western Canada, heard.

Trucks are adorned with flags, decals, and banners airing complaints about open borders, about Saudi oil imports, about the failure of Justin Trudeau’s government to get the Trans Mountain pipeline built.

Trudeau must go, they say, though with just three seats in Alberta, one in Saskatchewan and seven in Manitoba, the Liberals hardly have a major presence in the prairies as is.

The placards and decals are also directed at the upcoming Alberta election. They call for Alberta premier Rachel Notley to go.

Weekend protests have been happening in smaller municipalities across Alberta since December, including some larger convoys and rallies, in a not insignificant show of discontent against the incumbent NDP government.

However, many of the protests have taken place in ridings that are already represented by Conservatives.

The grievances are diverse. But for the United We Roll convoy, there’s something approaching focus: This is about the oil and gas industry; it’s about people hurting.

“The carbon tax is killing us, our small town of Bonnyville is curling up and dying,” said Roberta Graham.

She was making the trip with her husband and son. “We’ve been told to hang on from our government, from five years ago, many, many people that we know and love up there, that we considered newfound oilfield family has moved, they’ve gone home, bankrupt. They’re not only bankrupt financially, [but they’re also] bankrupt emotionally.”

Of course, there’s more to it.

united we roll convoy merchandise

Graham described herself as a proud Yellow Vester, someone who is concerned about pipelines, but also the UN migration compact.

Many involved were wearing yellow safety vests, in homage to French protesters who, last year, rallied against President Emmanuel Macron’s fuel tax and rioted in the streets of Paris.

But in Canada, the movement has become affiliated with racism, threats of violence and a range of conspiracy theories about the United Nations.

Organizers have been doing their best to say that those people, the radicals, the fringe, are hijacking the movement, but there’s no avoiding what’s associated with the vests, or the fine line between concerns about illegal immigration and outright fear of newcomers to Canada or what hats, on sale Thursday night at a pizza party, declaring “Make Canada Great Again,” look like too many Canadians. It looks like Donald Trump-style populism and fearmongering.

Still, what the convoy is striving to be about, oil and gas and the carbon tax — this is western alienation personified, gathered in a convoy of big trucks motoring across the nation, running straight through the heart of Canada, from oil country to the seat of political power.

Before leaving, the group sang O Canada as the wind chill approached -40. Two pastors prayed, asking through a megaphone for God to open the ears of Parliamentarians and bless the convoy.

As the convoy pulled out — maybe as many as 180 vehicles strong, at this point — horns honking and flags waving, chatter lit up the LADD 2 radio channel, a trucking and petroleum industry frequency.

“Roller, roller, roller,” someone said.

“Damn straight, brother,” said another.

“Let the good times roll,” said a third.

“I’ve got to listen to this s–t all day,” grumbled David Adamson, a life-long trucker, who, hauling a semi-trailer behind him, smoked Du Mauriers and chatted about trucking in that slow Alberta drawl.

The chatter continued: “Trudeau, there’s a storm on the way.”

“Hallelujah, brother,” agreed another convoy member.

canada pro pipeline convoy

By the time the convoy ended its first day — around 9:30 p.m. Saskatchewan time — about half that convoy had bailed; not everyone could take the time off to drive cross-country.

Glen Carritt, the organizer of United We Roll, estimated around 70 vehicles had made it to Regina. They were expecting a few dozen more to depart Friday morning and to pick up even more as the convoy crossed Manitoba and into Ontario.

And, in Ontario, a convoy from Newfoundland, estimated Thursday at 50 strong, would be joining up with them. Workers from Newfoundland have long had a significant presence in Alberta’s petroleum industry.

It may not seem like a lot, but in an election year, that dozens of blue-collar workers took the time to drive across the country says something about the depth of the grievances.

Those who turned out felt a mixture of enthusiasm and disappointment; plenty of people were there, but some had hoped to send a stronger message with kilometers of trucks traveling in unison.

But there were plenty more people who couldn’t join the convoy but were there in spirit or out to support in some other way. Donations rolled into the GoFundMe page as the day wore on; it sits, as of Friday, at more than $79,000.

On the side of the highway in Maple Creek, Sask., roughly halfway between Calgary and Regina, Kelly Keil waited, in his black Dodge pickup.

He had diesel fuel, for anyone who needed it. A few took him up on the offer — he guessed he handed out 75 gallons.

“I can’t make my own trip down to Ottawa myself, so I figured that the fuel I would burn, I may as well hand it off to somebody else,” said Keil. “It’s just a little part that I figured I could do and try to help out I guess.”

He wasn’t the only one showing support; some 20 vehicles were congregated near Maple Creek.

convoy united we roll pitstop

All along the route, supporters stood by the side of the road. Through Medicine Hat, just shy of 300 kilometers east of Calgary, at least 35 people waited, on a bridge, at the side of the road.

Many wore yellow vests, waving flags and posters. Even as night fell, even as the temperatures careened below -20 C, even in, by any definition, the middle of nowhere, supporters waited and waved, their camera phones out.

And Ken Husband, a trucker and oil worker from Strathmore, Alta., who first made his way to the patch in 1979, yanked on the cord to his horn, blaring it as the convoy rolled past.

“This used to be booming,” Husband said earlier in the day, gesturing, in Brooks, Alta., at a lot with scattered and unused heavy equipment.

Husband has done a lot in his life — from plowing highways to working in the oil industry to driving trucks.

Lean, with long grey hair, and a bushy mustache, wearing blue jeans, a collared shirt, bandana, and cowboy boots, smoking Player’s cigarettes, he looks exactly like what he says he is: a rubber boot cowboy.

It’s a cowboy lifestyle, basically, for oil and gas roughnecks. Living hard, out in the middle of nowhere, in pursuit of a bit of cash.

Except instead of riding a horse and herding cattle, you’re slogging around in the muck working in a mine or drilling for oil.

Read rest at National Post

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