Some governing members of the Conservative party are wrong to support the truckers protest in Ottawa known as the “Freedom Convoy,” according to Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson.

He feels so strongly about it that he served notice on Feb. 4 that he’s leaving the Conservative caucus to join the Canadian Senators Group, which votes independently.

Patterson expressed concern over “some of the hateful and divisive rhetoric that we (Conservatives) seem to be associated with currently through some of our spokespersons and even leadership.” He cited “repugnant” hateful utterances and symbols and the desecration of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which he believes is the work of “extremists” who have taken control of the raucous demonstration in Ottawa that has left downtown streets gridlocked.

“I feel that it was important to take a principled stand, calling out the … abhorrent, racist, white-supremacist, lawless hooligans in the so-called Freedom Convoy,” said Patterson. “I am in total disagreement with any association with that group.”

He has been fielding numerous calls and emails from Nunavummiut who are worried about their young adult children attending school in Ottawa, relatives fearful of what might happen to their loved ones receiving medical treatment, and the plight of homeless Inuit in the nation’s capital while the “hostage-taking” — as Patterson called it — of downtown Ottawa persists.

O’Toole supporter

The Nunavut senator was “very supportive” of Erin O’Toole’s leadership, which was severed with an internal vote by Conservative MPs on Feb. 2. O’Toole represented a centrist, progressive approach and he had shown an interest in the North, Patterson said.

It’s too early to tell who will emerge as candidates to replace O’Toole and Patterson said he doesn’t have “any idea who I’d support at this stage.” But he’s looking for a person who can unite the traditional Conservatives and the former Reform party supporters once again.

A lifelong “red-Tory” Conservative, Patterson said he will still remain a member of the party, just not the caucus. He added that his decision won’t prevent him from upholding his duties as senator or serving as a member of the Aboriginal Peoples Committee and the Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee.

If the party chooses to move in a “far-right” direction, Patterson was non-committal about parting ways with the Conservatives outright.

“I’ll have to cross that bridge when I come to it,” he said. “I’ll do my best to use my position of influence to make sure that I can live with and be very collaborative with our next leader.”

Nunavut’s pandemic measures

The senator gave a ringing endorsement of the way that the pandemic has been handled in Nunavut, praising chief public health officer (CPHO) Dr. Michael Patterson — “no relation” — in particular, and Nunavut’s leadership for following the CPHO’s guidance.

Being tripled vaccinated himself, he said he fully supports vaccine mandates and wishes Conservative party leadership would also stand firmly behind inoculations.

At the same time, he said he recognizes how much of a strain Covid-19 has created for Nunavummiut.

“No doubt, people are suffering greatly from this seemingly sometimes endless pandemic and the impact of the lockdown, the anxiety and fears and mental health pressures that we’re all feeling,” he said, noting that he is admittedly nervous about travelling because he is elderly and immunocompromised.

Iqaluit water crisis

With residents of Nunavut’s capital twice having their consumption of tap and tanked water interrupted due to the presence of hydrocarbons over the past few months, Patterson said he leaves it to the municipality and the territorial government to resolve the “distressing” problem in the short-term.

However, he said he’s working on gaining political support for the infrastructure improvements required to avoid future water crises in Iqaluit.

Ensuring an adequate water supply for Iqaluit’s growing population is a pressing concern, he acknowledged.

He’s working on a pre-budget submission to the federal government to address the “basic right we should have to clean water.”

“The sad reality is that most of our hamlets, most of our municipalities are still out of compliance with basic water standards established by the water board and the federal government,” he said.

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