Deputy minister of finance says convoy came at ‘delicate time’ for economy

By David Fraser

OTTAWA – The top civil servant at the federal Finance Department says Canada’s economy was already facing uncertainty when protests against COVID-19 restrictions blockaded borders and occupied downtown Ottawa last winter.

Michael Sabia, the deputy minister of finance, is one of three senior officials from the department testifying today at the public inquiry tasked with determining whether the Liberal government was justified in triggering the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14 to end the protests.

Sabia says the country’s economy was at a “very, very fragile moment” when the “Freedom Convoy” protests began in late January, due to lingering effects from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and shifting dynamics in global trade.

He says it was also a “very delicate time” for Canada, as the federal government was preparing the 2022 budget and anticipating the consequences of Russia’s imminent invasion of Ukraine.

Sabia tells the Public Order Emergency Commission the protests, which shut down several border crossings, were also hurting Canada’s reputation as a reliable trading partner at a time when there was growing protectionist sentiment in the United States.

He also says the Finance Department feared that if the protests went on for too long, there would be lasting consequences for the economy, particularly on Canada’s automotive industry.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national security adviser, Jody Thomas, is also due to testify today.

The commission has previously learned that a few hours after the history-making decision to invoke the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14, Thomas reached out to the RCMP for a threat assessment of the protests in Ottawa and at several border crossings.

Her actions, detailed in documents previously submitted as evidence to the inquiry, provide some insight into the advice Trudeau and his cabinet colleagues were receiving when deciding to use the Emergencies Act.

The inquiry learned Thomas did not go through official channels and told the RCMP the protests were a threat to democracy and the rule of law.

When Trudeau invoked the act, he told Canadians its extraordinary but temporary powers were needed to quell protests against pandemic-related restrictions and the Liberal government.