By Paul Tuns

The Conservative Party of Canada held its biennial convention virtually this year and despite disappointment at not getting to vote on traditional pro-life and pro-family policies, pro-life groups are applauding the outcomes of the policies that were put forward, the defeat of several problematic constitutional amendments, and the new National Council of the party.

Before the convention, pro-lifers and social conservatives had organized at the grassroots levels to support pro-life policies to be debated at convention and in support of pro-life delegates that would attend the online-only convention. Convention organizers reduced the number of policies for consideration from 76 in 2018 to 30 (later increased to 34) in a move that Campaign Life Coalition says was designed to prevent pro-life and pro-family policies from being debated and voted on. The benchmarks to have policy debated by the full convention were altered, making it more difficult to get pro-life and pro-family policies among the final 30, or 34, most popular policies at the IdeasLab where Electoral District Association (EDA) presidents voted on them. Party spokesman Corey Hann claimed that the virtual convention, without smaller breakout sessions, would be unwieldy debating a larger number of policies.

Among the top priorities for pro-lifers headed into this policy convention was to Delete Article #70, an effort to scrap a reference that a future Conservative government “will not support any legislation to regulate abortion.” It, along with a number of policies endorsed by pro-life and pro-family groups, did not make the cut for this convention. 

In its “Voter’s Guide for Socon Delegates to the CPC21 Convention” – made available for 1,100 CLC supporters who were among the nearly 4000 delegates – Campaign Life Coalition endorsed nine policies and opposed one. Only a handful was directly related to pro-life or pro-family issues, such as the creation of a national adoption strategy, updating the current principle against euthanasia to include opposition to extending it to minors, and joint tax-filing for couples. Other issues included protecting free speech on universities campuses, funding the CBC, and taking measures to oppose Communist China. The convention endorsed all ten of the CLC-supported positions.

The anti-euthanasia policy, which opposes euthanasia in principle and specifically opposes extending it to minors, people who are mentally incompetent, or living with psychological suffering, passed with 74.6 per cent of delegates supporting it. The adoption strategy won the backing of nearly 82 per cent of delegates. The free speech on campus more than 88 per cent.

CLC’s post-convention analysis trumpeted, “SoCon Delegates crushed policy voting across the board.” Jeff Gunnarson, national president of CLC, said “the official party policy declaration has been made a little bit more pro-life and more forcefully advocating for freedom of speech.”

CLC also had recommendations for National Council and constitutional amendments. It made 18 recommendations on 18 constitutional amendments, many of which the organization said would be used to “target social conservatives” running to become a candidate for MP or the party’s leadership or make it harder to get pro-life and pro-family policies considered at future conventions. Sixteen of 18 votes went CLC’s way.

CLC proposed two constitutional amendments that met the March 11 deadline and had the required 124 EDA signatures, but the convention co-chair Kerry-Lynn Findlay read a prepared statement that said she was not entertaining motions from the floor even though the amendments were made in writing a week prior to the convention. One amendment sought to declare “a belief in the value and dignity of all human life, from conception to natural death” within the party’s constitution, while the other would allow Electoral District Associations (EDA) to veto National Council or leader decisions to prevent a candidate from running in an election.

The National Council — effectively the board of directors of the party – was important to pro-life and pro-family groups because it is responsible for appointing the Leadership Election Organizing Committee that oversees leadership races, and acts as the final arbiter when candidates are disqualified by the National Candidate Selection Committee (CSC). CLC said eight of the 20 members of newly elected Council will be “pro-member” and “respect the party constitution,” and they “should pave the way to electing more pro-life MPs in the future.”

Richard Decarie and another unnamed pro-lifer from Quebec were disqualified from running for National Council when the party claimed their applications were not received by the deadline. It also disqualified pro-life Ghada Melek in Ontario, but an Ontario Superior Court ruled the party breached its own rules in doing so and ordered her name back on the ballot.

CLC endorsed 12 candidates for National Council, who are voted on by members in each province. In Ontario, Jack Fonseca, political strategist for Campaign Life Coalition, decided it was wisest to endorse three incumbents who were running that he said worked to re-instate pro-life or pro-family candidates that were disqualified by the CSC. CLC also endorsed pro-life newcomer, Peter Aarsen. He had the most votes – 159 more votes than the next most popular candidate — after winning the support of all pro-life and pro-family groups.

Incumbents Burt Chen and Shir Barzilay won with 663 and 643 votes respectively.  

CLC did not back two pro-life candidates for National Council, Melek and Kara Johnson, despite the latter being supported by the group in five previous National Council elections. That decision led long-time pro-life Conservative activist Tanya Granic Allen to chastise CLC for compromising in backing Barzilay, who is not pro-life, over Johnson.

Johnson also had 643 votes. Another CLC-supported candidate, Matthijs Van Gaalen had 629 votes and Melek had 593. 

CLC was still “very happy” that Johnson won.

CLC said that eight of 20 members of the National Council — effectively the board of directors of the party — would be “pro-member” council members, although not all of them were pro-life. Another pro-life group, Right Now, claimed that a majority of the Council were allies. Other CLC-endorsed candidates who won include Collette Stang in Saskatchewan and Robert Boyd in British Columbia. CLC said Mani Fallon in B.C. and Amber Ruddy in Alberta, might also be considered “pro-member” national councillors.

Jeff Gunnarson said that a lot of resources went into moving the Conservative Party toward a more “pro-life, pro-family, grassroots party” and now they will redouble their efforts to get candidates elected and pro-life MPs voted in whenever the next general election is called.