A front-runner for the federal Conservative party leadership has deleted a tweet that praised citizens opposed to rail blockades for taking matters into their own hands.
Peter MacKay, a former federal justice minister and attorney general, took to Twitter Wednesday to laud counter-protesters who tried to remove parts of a blockade erected on a Canadian National rail line in Edmonton.
“Glad to see a couple Albertans with a pickup truck can do more for our economy in an afternoon than Justin Trudeau could do in four years,” MacKay wrote in the deleted tweet, responding to a post from Global News reporter Fletcher Kent.
The blockade was set up in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose Coastal GasLink’s construction of a natural gas pipeline through their traditional B.C. territory. Edmonton organizers said they took down the barriers to prevent the peaceful action from taking a turn.
MacKay later released a series of tweets on the issue that suggested his enthusiasm was really about clearing debris, including one quoting a counter-protester who told The Canadian Press he was “trying to remove some garbage.”
“I see this as an act of good citizenship,” MacKay wrote. “The peaceful removal of debris deliberately placed on a railway that posed a threat to public safety. Clearing the track and preventing harm.”
HuffPost Canada asked MacKay’s campaign why he deleted his original message.
In an emailed statement, MacKay later said that “illegal blockades and vigilante reactions by those frustrated by the prime minister’s inaction are dangerous. We need leadership, not platitudes to resolve this crisis.”
Trudeau has been “dithering and delaying,” he alleged, “leaving Canadians feeling like the government has lost control and is paralyzed in its inability to act.”
Earlier this week, MacKay released a video accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of failing to “stand up for the rule of law” in the face of demonstrations that have shut down the CN rail network in central Canada, suspended Via Rail service, and disrupted traffic on streets, bridges, and at ports in several cities. Both rail companies have already announced temporary layoffs affecting almost 1,500 people.
In the clip, MacKay said “agitators” are “holding innocent Canadians hostage,” and claimed it was all the work of a small group of “professional protesters and thugs.” While protests have sprung up across the country over the last two weeks, a key blockade near Belleville, Ont. is being led by Tyendinaga Mohawks.
MacKay also said his experience as justice minister and attorney general showed him that “no one is above the law in Canada.”
This is not the first time MacKay’s social media messages have raised eyebrows. Earlier this month, he was pressed by reporters about a video he tweeted, mocking Trudeau for yoga and spa expenses billed to the Liberal Party in 2013. MacKay said he wasn’t happy with the tweet— which has since been deleted — and that he wants his campaign to remain “civilized.”
The blockade situation has sparked heated exchanges in the House of Commons. Current Tory Leader Andrew Scheer called on the Liberal government to tell the RCMP to enforce injunctions to end blockades, a proposal experts have called into question.
Watch: Conservatives press Trudeau on blockades
Conservative MPs maintain they are standing up for elected band councils on the pipeline route in B.C. who support the project, and repeatedly claim the protests are being led by “radical” activists who want to shut down Canada’s oil and gas industry.
The matter has become a focus in the Tory leadership race, even though top contenders are mostly singing from the same songbook.
Durham MP Erin O’Toole, presumed to be MacKay’s top competition, shared a video from a right-wing politics website Wednesday showing counter-protesters removing materials from the Edmonton demonstration.
“Every passing day that Justin Trudeau ignores law-breaking brings us another day closer to vigilantism and violence,” O’Toole wrote.
Trudeau repeatedly told the House of Commons Wednesday that while blockades are presenting an “unacceptable situation,” the only path to a resolution can be found through dialogue and patience.
“We are working extremely hard, doing absolutely everything we can to resolve these situations peacefully,” Trudeau said. “We know that an overly aggressive approach, like the one proposed by the leader of the official Opposition, will only lead to more challenges down the road.”
With files from The Canadian Press