For “big tent” political parties, internal contradictions are part of the political game. And nowhere were the contradictions that plague Canada’s modern conservative movement more on display than during the Conservative Party of Canada’s recent plenary dedicated to policy issues.
The policy plenary block closed the party’s convention in Quebec City this past weekend. For just over two hours on Saturday, Conservative delegates debated 30 motions of the 200 that had been submitted for consideration by Conservative riding associations.
Of the 200, 60 motions actually made it into the convention agenda, and of those, 30 motions were prioritized in a session that was closed to journalists.
Only one motion that went to vote failed – one that called for the creation of a federal inventory to track ground water. The majority of motions passed with overwhelming margins, and several passed near-unanimously.
At his pre-convention press conference, Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre reminded journalists that the leader doesn’t have to implement anything that the members pass in the policy plenary: "Leaders are never bound by convention resolutions, but we do take them into consideration."
“Smaller government” was on many Conservative delegates’ lips, whether among those who spoke to The Maple and The Breach about their opinions, or those who spoke at the microphones during the convention. Indeed, for many Conservative activists, their party’s desire to cut government — whether that be services, programs or bureaucracy — drives their support for the party.
Of the 30 policy motions, however, 18 would likely necessitate an expansion of the federal government just to be able to administer, monitor or create each policy demand. In some cases, like eliminating GST from newborn and new mother-related products, the bureaucracy would probably be minor.
But in other cases, the investments would likely need to be significant. One motion called for the creation of a “National Senior Strategy” that would legislate service standards for home care, community care and long-term care. Another motion sought to expand palliative care so that access to it is a right.
The most expensive proposals were related to defence spending. One motion that passed called for the government to “modernize” NORAD — Canada’s joint air defence program with the United States — upgrade the Northern Warning System, expand Forward Operating Locations, build a new naval base in the Arctic, and procure new military equipment and air defence systems.
Another motion called for Canada to seek membership in two new security pacts: The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and AUKUS, the new Australia-UK-US security alliance. AUKUS’ goal is to help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines, something that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that Canada has no interest in. In June, U.S. officials said they aren’t currently seeking Canadian membership either.
Investments into new military alliances, a new naval base, air defence weapons and a new national strategy for seniors would be expensive, to say the least.
For Conservatives, about as sacrosanct as the principle of smaller government is the belief that governments should let individuals and private entities make their own choices.
Dozens of convention delegates told The Maple and The Breach that government interference into people’s daily lives was one of their primary concerns. Katie Robinette from Spadina-Fort York in Toronto said:
“I'm just big on getting government smaller. It seems that everything that there's a problem with today, it's the government that wants to be there to fix it. And I don't think government is the solution to problems. So smaller government; just get out of my way.”
But nine of the 29 motions that passed would necessitate government intervention into the private lives of citizens. The most egregious of these targeted transgender youth and adults, and the freedom of institutions to determine their own political priorities.
In particular, a motion passed that would oppose “forced political, cultural or ideological training of any kind as pre-condition of employment or practice.” If this ever became government policy, the individual rights of employers to decide what kinds of training their workers should receive would be restricted; agencies, businesses and private groups would be subject to how the government might choose to define what counts as “ideological,” “cultural” or “political.”
One motion said that the government should support “domestic research, development and production of vaccines,” and include “options for vaccines that do not violate religious beliefs or ethical values of Canadians.” Mandating that research respect a set of nebulous ethical and religious beliefs would constitute a massive government incursion into academic freedom.
And, despite some existing efforts to balance the scales of racial and gender representation in academic research, a motion passed stating that a Conservative government should interfere in hiring practices by “restoring” merit-based hiring, and steering hiring funding for federal research agencies away from “ideology.”
Attacks On Trans People
The delegates passed two motions that pose a direct attack on trans youth and adults. The first defined a “woman” as someone who is assigned female at birth, and then went on to say that the party “believes that women are entitled to the benefits of women-only categories (e.g. sports, awards, grants, scholarships. Etc.”
This vague motion could restrict the ability of sporting agencies, private gyms, municipal community centres, restaurants and so on to make their own decisions based on their own values, clientele or physical infrastructure. It would impose on the private and public sectors a vision of gender that does not match with the reality of gender diversity.
The motion was motivated by Linda Blade, a former elite athlete and high performance sports coach who is now in her 50s. Blade told The Maple and The Breach that she believes that trans people should just use gender neutral washrooms, but this was not part of the motion, nor was it mentioned on the floor of the convention. After the policy convention, Blade was visibly excited as she embraced a fellow delegate.
This was the only motion where all of the speakers were women.
Meanwhile, the motion was in contradiction with a proposal that preceded it earlier in the day that said that awards, scholarships and research funding should only be given out based on merit, rather than based on “personal, immutable characteristics” i.e., like gender.
Another motion would ban gender-affirming medical care for trans youth. North Okanagan-Shushwap delegate Scott Anderson said: “We don’t allow children to drink or drive or engage in sexual activity or join the military or even vote before the age of adult.”
Dr. Lisa Bonang, a family physician and delegate from Central Nova, spoke passionately against the motion. “This policy stands against the values of our party to embrace freedom and bodily autonomy,” she said. “A vote for this is a vote against what you say you are all for and is pure hypocrisy.”
Sixty-nine per cent of delegates voted in favour of the motion.
The proposal also contradicted another motion, called “A National Uniform Right to Informed Consent and Bodily Autonomy” that affirmed: “Every Canadian is entitled to informed consent and bodily autonomy.”
At the same time as this vote and only about 2 km away from the convention centre, around 50 people protested at Quebec City’s Museum of Civilization against an exhibit that explores gender diversity. As many as 200 counter protesters were also present.
The policy plenary was also an opportunity for delegates to update the Conservative Party’s climate policies to be more in-line with the views of the majority of Canadians.
A meandering paragraph in the Conservatives’ old policy book argued that jobs and the environment are “sometimes” in competition, and that the Conservatives want to maintain a “proper balance” between the two. The old policy also mentioned China and the United States as being two large emitters that needed to be held to international climate convention commitments.
The paragraph was replaced by a list of policy priorities: Clean air and climate, clean water and land, and biodiversity. The motivator of the motion was Iain Provan from Burnaby North-Seymour, who argued that it was a “stronger, truly conservative environmental policy with much greater appeal to common sense Canadians.” Provan argued that the wording of the old policy was a “major electoral obstacle.”
The party might still struggle to stay on message with its environmental policies, however, as some delegates, including John Wilson from Nova Scotia, made arguments that were downright false. He said: “Greenhouse gas is the greatest con in the history of mankind. It is impossible. It doesn’t exist … if you reduce carbon dioxide you will probably cause mass starvation worldwide.” He received some applause for that factually inaccurate remark.
Other motions were intended to modernize the party’s environmental policies. One motion said that the party would “encourage innovation” to help diversify Canada’s energy sources, “including renewables and other carbon and non-carbon based energy sources.” A motion in favour of high-speed rail also passed, despite some delegates arguing that rail is an urban, rather than a rural issue.
The motion that did not pass was one to mandate the federal government to create an inventory of ground water systems that would be protected and, if necessary, restored.
Brayden Buye from the riding of Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner wasn’t convinced, arguing that the federal government had no business meddling in provincial jurisdiction. “The climate changes across the country. Allowing the federal government to get into water management within different climates is going to be trouble. This is not water we want to tread into,” he argued.
The motion failed with 52 per cent opposed and 48 per cent in favour. While the highest amount of support came from the territories (where the federal government manages the largest share of surface water), 80 per cent of the delegates from Saskatchewan rejected the motion.
Now, let's turn to the members' corner...
We've been covering the Conservative convention closely these past few days. Here is what other news outlets had to say about it.