The Conservative Party of Canada’s founding convention (March 17 to 19, 2005 in Montreal) resulted in the new party taking a position in support of the traditional definition of marriage and a position against a future CPC government taking any action on the abortion issue. Here is a timeline and description of the events leading up to the convention and the highlights of what happened that weekend.
Party merger: December 2003 – The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada and the Canadian Alliance agree to merge into a new party, the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC).
Leadership election March 2004: Three candidates run for the leadership of the new party, but none of them are pro-life. Stephen Harper wins a convincing first ballot victory over Belinda Stronach and Tony Clement.
Election Campaign, June 2004: Harper commits to right of MPs to bring forward private members’ bills and vote freely on the abortion issue, then promises that a Harper-led government will not support abortion related legislation in its first term. Later he starts referring to “a woman’s right to choose.” The CPC wins 99 seats but loses to the Liberals and Canadians end up with the first minority parliament since 1979.
Post election, summer 2004: Harper blames pro-lifers for his election defeat, despite his own lack of a serious platform, his failure to respond effectively to Liberal attacks, his failure to properly exploit the marriage issue and his staff’s bungling of the child pornography issue
Autumn 2004: The CPC conducts a constituency – based policy process. The most frequently proposed resolution is in support of the traditional definition of marriage. A few pro-abortion resolutions come forward (most notably from Quebec and Toronto) and one pro-life resolution (for a ban on partial-birth abortions) from Eastern Ontario.
February, 2005: CPC MPs are allowed to submit their own resolutions and draft a resolution (P-90) that affirms the old PC Party tradition that MPs can vote their “conscience” on “moral” issues (specifically mentioning abortion, euthanasia and marriage).
Early March 2005: According to sources, Harper decides he doesn’t want the delegates to vote on the partial birth abortion ban resolution because he is afraid that it might pass and tag the CPC as a “pro-life” party, and Harper also doesn’t want the delegates to vote on the marriage issue because he wants the party to avoid taking a formal position which might prove inconvenient or awkward once same-sex “marriage” becomes more entrenched. Party staff adhere to Harper’s wish and manipulate the order of the resolutions in such a fashion that the “conscience” resolution P-90 (see above) will precede resolutions on marriage and abortion, and, moreover, Harper’s staff added a surprise conditional note which explained that, if P-90 passed, there would be no consideration of the marriage or abortion resolutions. This was highly illogical, of course, as P-90 only reaffirmed a tradition that applied to MPs, while the other resolutions were intended to determine the position of the entire party (not just the caucus). Nonetheless, the intention of this scheme was to trick pro-lifers to support resolution P-90 and help short-circuit debate on marriage and abortion. Presumably, CPC strategists believed it was possible to separate pro-life delegates from delegates primarily interested in the marriage issue, and, presumably, pro-life delegates would be so afraid of the prospect of a pro-abortion resolution passing (which it eventually did) that they would be willing to participate in Harper’s effort to shut down debate on these issues altogether.
March 7, 2005: The Policy Resolution booklet is released, and the Harper plan to stifle debate grabs the attention of the party grassroots. A furor erupts within the party and the caucus. Many MPs claimed they had no idea that there P-90 resolution would be used by Harper and his staff to stifle debate on the other issues.
March 8, 2005: Party activists and MPs continue to lobby Harper, trying to get him to back down on the plan to stifle debate on marriage and abortion.
March 9, 2005: The CPC caucus, at their regular Wednesday morning meeting, considers this issue and debates whether or not to instruct the staff to remove the offending note that indicated the passage of P-90 would kill debate on marriage and abortion. According to sources, the caucus had a vote on this issue, with 37 MPs in favour of keeping the gag-note and 37 in favour of repealing the gag-note and thus allowing free and fair debate. Sources also suggest that Harper was then put on the spot to break the tie, and, under such scrutiny, voted with the democrats on the issue in favour of pulling the offending gag-note and against the pro-gag-note lobby, which was led by MP Peter McKay.
March 17, 2005: The CPC convention is called to order in Montreal.
March 18, 2005: The CPC convention has a day of policy and party constitutional workshops; Harper addresses the convention, delivering a well-crafted speech which reiterates his well-known position that a government led by him would support traditional marriage but do nothing to fill the legislative void on abortion. Delegates immediately proceed to a secret ballot vote on Harper’s leadership
March 19, 2005: CPC delegates pass the P-90 resolution, killing off the Reform/CA tradition of MPs voting with constituents and, instead, affirming the older PC tradition of MPs voting according to their conscience on so-called “moral issues.” Delegates also voted overwhelmingly (75 per cent) for a resolution committing a future CPC government to supporting legislation in favour of the traditional definition of marriage, and even a majority (54 per cent) of Quebec delegates voted in favour. Delegates also voted in favour of a resolution (P-93) committing a future CPC government to taking no action on the abortion issue. This vote was close – 54 per cent in favour – and was opposed by Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and a surprising 46 per cent of Ontario delegates. Strong support for the pro-abortion P-93 resolution comes from the delegates from Atlantic Canada, which, ironically, is one of the strongest areas of public support for the unborn. Because P-93 passed, there was no debate or vote on P-94, the resolution that called for a ban on partial-birth abortion. Finally, the results of the leadership review ballot – 84 per cent against having a new leadership contest, which is widely interpreted as a strong vote of support for Stephen Harper.