Provincial Update: Remembering the battle of Billings Bridge

A headshot of Joel Harden.
Joel Harden. Kitchissippi Times file photo.

Submitted by Joel Harden, MPP for Ottawa Centre

I’ve worked as your MPP since 2018, and I’ve seen our city face many things.

Two massive windstorms, two “once in a century” floods, a horrendous bus crash, a dysfunctional light rail transit system, a global pandemic, and a three-week vehicle occupation of our downtown core.

As I knocked on doors in the last election, many people talked about these unprecedented events. “Are the locusts next Joel?” said one neighbour. “Are we cursed?”

No, I said (after a laugh), I think the opposite is true. Ottawa is blessed with compassion in moments of great need. I’ve met dozens of local leaders and engaged community groups; I’ve seen them work wonders in the face of adversity.

To me, our biggest challenge was last year’s “Freedom Convoy”, the aforementioned three-week vehicle occupation of our downtown neighbourhoods, and an important one-year anniversary of that time just passed.

Feb. 13, 2022 — the “Battle of Billings Bridge”. It was a moment when people had had enough. And they took action. A small group of neighbours blocked dozens of convoy vehicles headed uptown, and it spiraled into a movement I will never forget.

This year, in the weeks before the anniversary, I had been thinking about the significance of that day, and how we could mark the occasion. 

In the end, at 9 a.m. on Feb. 12, I joined neighbours for a walk on the Rideau Winter Trail. We met where the trail starts just beside where the Billings Bridge blockade happened (near the intersection of Bank Street and Riverside Drive). Don’t worry – groomer Pete said that was alright as long as we avoided the ski tracks.

After a brief discussion (it was cold!), we got moving, and asked some important questions, all of which are inspired from our blockade on Feb. 12, 2022.

Can we address the spread of misinformation? Can we call others in, instead of just calling them out? Can we encourage passionate debate that avoids point-scoring and snark?

There are answers to these questions, but they require a different approach to politics. More empathy, even when we’re angry. Building bridges, not more walls. What do you think?

My very best to you all, Joel

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