OTTAWA — A Conservative senator is facing criticism after he encouraged a crowd of protesters to "roll over every Liberal left in the country."
Saskatchewan Sen. David Tkachuk made the comment while addressing a few hundred "United We Roll" protesters on Parliament Hill Tuesday. The senator said he was invited to speak by the Greater Ottawa Truckers Association, a municipal lobby group.
"I know you've rolled all the way here, and I'm going to ask you one more thing: I want you to roll over every Liberal left in the country," Tkachuk told convoy-supporting protesters. Cheers erupted from the crowd.
"Because when they're gone. These bills are gone," he said, referring to Liberal government legislation proposing an oil tanker ban in northern British Columbia and another to rehaul the pipeline review process.
Tkachuk said he felt obliged to greet the attendees, many of whom travelled from his home province to voice their frustrations about a variety of federal policies from energy development to immigration.
"People aren't driving all the way across the country to have lunch with their neighbours," Tkachuk told HuffPost Canada on Wednesday. "They're driving across the country because they're worried about losing their home and educating their children. And that's why they came here."
The "United We Roll" convoy started in Red Deer, Alta. last Thursday and arrived in Ottawa Tuesday for two days of demonstrations. The theme centred on a pro-pipeline message, but speakers and signs hanging from trucks touched on criticisms of the United Nations' global compact for migration and Canada's refugee policy.
Protesters also voiced their concerns about the carbon tax and its potential impact on the livelihoods of truckers.
Many protesters wore yellow vests, a symbol of unity with the French anti-government movement. Organizers of "Yellow Vests Canada," the Canadian spinoff, have been accused of spreading hate and violence against Muslims and politicians on social media.
Tkachuk said he didn't see any racists in the crowd. He suggested writing off the movement by focusing on yellow vesters "is not fair" to the concerns of Alberta and Saskatchewan oil and gas workers.
"I just saw ordinary guys and girls out there," the Conservative senator said.
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NDP MP Nathan Cullen called the senator's decision to fraternize with a group that has links to "straight-up xenophobic, racist" remarks "incredibly ignorant and dangerous."
"United We Roll" was initially dubbed the yellow vest convoy before organizers decided to rename it after "much consideration," according to The Canadian Press.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier both delivered speeches and posed for pictures with rally attendees.
Cullen is more bothered by the presence of two federal leaders than he is by Tkachuk's comment. Scheer and Benier stood before the crowd "with the authority of a national party," he said.
As a representative of a federal riding with a resource-based economy, Cullen said he understands the frustration some western Canadians feel about the slow pace of major projects approvals. But, he suggested, Scheer and Bernier had made costly and short-sighted calculations when they lent their support to the rally.
"It did damage to those people who do want to see more natural resource development," the NDP MP said, calling the yellow-vest movement a "very xenophobic crowd" to roll with.
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre also addressed the protesters.
"It was a pipeline rally," Poilievre said, sidestepping a question about the involvement of the yellow-vested protesters. He was there, he said, "because I support pipelines."
But that explanation doesn't wash with Cullen.
"You'd have to be deaf, dumb and blind to not realize it was more than just about pipelines," he said.
Watch: Protesters explain what they're frustrated about
Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi told reporters Tuesday it's up Conservatives to decide on the company they keep.
Scheer had the opportunity to denounce some of the displays of "hatred and the negativity" but failed to do so, Sohi said.
Sohi represents the Alberta riding of Edmonton—Mill Woods. The minister did not confirm plans to meet with "United We Roll" protesters.
"I understand the frustration that people are facing about the pipeline capacity and getting our resources to non U.S. global markets," he said. "I am focused on fixing the problems that exist."
'Lots of MPs' reached out: Convoy organizer
Outside of the House of Commons on Wednesday, "United We Roll" convoy head organizer Glen Carritt said he is grateful for Scheer and Bernier's support.
With blaring choruses of truck horns breaking up the relative quiet on Parliament Hill, Carritt said he's confident Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heard them because they parked right outside his office.
Carritt, who owns an oilfield fire and safety company in Innisfail, Alta., said they're not going home empty-handed.
"We've had some MPs reach out to us. Lots of MPs," he said, declining to provide specific names.
As Caritt headed back to his truck to head home to Alberta, he said no Liberal MPs had reached out to him.
Listen: Sen. Tkachuk accuses government of wanting to 'destroy' the energy industry