A little more than a week ago, the organizers of the Regina Rally Against the Carbon Tax were looking forward to having an event that would attract a lot of people and send a message.
You’d have a few hundred vehicles that would drive from all points of the province through a convoy. Most of them would be from the southeast. They’d gather for the rally and hear speeches from a few select people. There would be people from Regina who would show up without participating in the convoy.
Sure, it would be a classic case of preaching to the converted; virtually all of those present would be politically conservative thinkers.
Overall, organizers did a good job of keeping the focus on the need to build pipelines, and to find alternatives to the carbon tax to reduce emissions. They avoided the negative connotations now associated with the yellow vest movement and some of the ideas they have brought forward.
Organizers of the rally received a gift, and from an unexpected source: New Democratic Party leader Ryan Meili, when he singled out Estevan area farmer Jason LeBlanc for LeBlanc’s role in organizing the event.
It all happened on April 1, three days before the rally. The reaction was swift.
The number of participants in the rally quickly swelled. Interest in the event spiked. People wanted to support LeBlanc, who is not only a well-known and respected farmer but also an award-winning auctioneer who has been involved in many aspects of life in the Estevan area and elsewhere in the province.
He received a longer ovation at Thursday’s rally than Premier Scott Moe. The people who applauded him weren’t doing so out of sympathy. You can bet many people on their feet before and after LeBlanc’s speech were individuals who knew him.
Meili was concerned about some of the statements LeBlanc has made about climate change and globalization in the past. And he took the very rare step for a politician to single out a private citizen for criticism during question period.
But his biggest mistake was quickly lumping in LeBlanc with the Yellow Vest protesters, and the ideas shared by some members of that movement.
(To read what Meili said, please see Brian Zinchuk’s column on this page and on A5).
We have driven past most of the Yellow Vest protests in front of city hall, and LeBlanc has not been seen at any of them.
You also have to wonder why Meili singled out LeBlanc, and didn’t target other people who organized the Regina rally.
When the Estevan convoy left early Thursday morning, LeBlanc was at the front. The number that drove the Estevan truck bypass that morning wasn’t as long as the one that made its way through the city last December, but it still stretched for miles.
And the number of vehicles grew as the convoy moved from Estevan to Regina. We’re not sure if it was actually one for the record books, but it will be the longest that many in Saskatchewan will ever see.
For Meili’s sake, hopefully this will be a learning experience. He’s been the smartest person in virtually every room he has been in his entire life, but he lost this battle. First of all, it’s not a good idea to go after a private citizen during question period, at least not a private citizen who is law-abiding and a success in his chosen careers.
Meili has been an MLA for just two years, and the leader of the official opposition for one. Every politician is going to have missteps during their career; it’s incumbent that they learn from these mistakes, for the good of their party moving forward.
His actions provided a big boost to the convoy that he criticized.
It’s akin to the high-profile religious preacher criticizing a new movie, and then watching as people turn out in droves to see what the hype is about.
You have to wonder what Meili thought when he saw the trucks rolling through Regina, and when nearly 2,000 people gathered for the rally itself.