Kenora MP Eric Melillo believes it’s time for protesters who have occupied Ottawa with calls to end COVID-19 restrictions, incessant honking, and illegal parking to “move on.”
While he defended the right to free expression, and described the protest as peaceful, the second-term Conservative MP took issue with the disruptions some protesters had caused.
“I think obviously we all support everyone’s right to peaceful protest, that’s a foundation of our democracy,” he said. “I mean, I think there’s a different protest over here on the hill almost every day that I’m here. But I also understand it’s been almost a week at this point.
“Although the protest is peaceful from my experience walking through this every day this week, it’s clearly blocking critical infrastructure. To me, we don’t want to see any protests block critical infrastructure… and obviously law enforcement has the tools and the duty to intervene if they feel necessary.”
Businesses, public transit, traffic, and social agencies in the capital city have been disrupted, while residents have shared videos showing what can be near-constant blaring of horns.
The movement has also prompted concerns over the ties of some organizers to white supremacist groups, and the display by some protesters of swastikas and confederate flags.
In an interview Thursday, Melillo said it was time for the protesters to leave the city.
“It’s certainly not a decision for me to make, but I think it’s definitely come the time that the protesters move on at this point,” he said.
However, he said he saw nothing wrong with Conservative caucus colleagues, including former leader Andrew Scheer, endorsing the protest.
Ottawa mayor Jim Watson slammed a photo-op in which Saskatchewan Conservative MPs posed with protesters, in comments on social media Thursday.
“This is an absolute disgrace that you would come out and praise this illegal action that has caused stress and hardship to residents who have been putting up with horns blasting throughout the night and residents harassed for wearing a mask and businesses forced to close,” he wrote on Twitter.
That incident, along with the ouster of former leader Erin O’Toole Wednesday after notably moderating some party positions, has given rise to commentary the party is moving to the right, but Melillo rejected that premise.
Melillo, who supported O’Toole in his 2020 leadership bid, said his removal by caucus vote was not necessarily about ideology.
“In terms of how Canadians see it, I haven’t talked to enough people I guess to answer that, but I certainly don’t see it that way,” he said. “I think there were a number of concerns that went into this, not all of which were policy-related.”
He declined to share how he himself voted on O'Toole's leadership review.
Melillo said he’s hopeful the process to replace O’Toole will expand the conservative movement and engage its base.
“Nothing’s set in stone yet” in terms of the timeline for that race, he said, but it’s expected to conclude before the end of the year.