From March 17-19, an important event will take place in Montreal: the founding convention of the Conservative Party of Canada. Political analysts and even the leaders of the party have perhaps not yet pondered the importance of the Quebec factor at this convention.
Unlike the Canadian Alliance, which was based on popular representation, the Conservative party is based on a riding representation system, in order to be a real national party in the line of the defunct Progressive Conservative Party. The province of Quebec will have one-fourth of the delegates, and perhaps more, because of the location of the conference. The party is dysfunctional or almost nonexistent in Quebec. It now has officially 10,000 members in Quebec, but in fact, probably less than 3,000 are real members, which make up less than 10 per cent of the members of the CPC. Numerically, Quebec will have a disproportionate importance. Some individual ridings in Calgary probably have more active militants than the whole province of Quebec. Each riding will have the right to send 12 delegates, notwithstanding the number of its members. Quebec has a potential for 900 delegates, but the province does not have a single Conservative MP.
The significance of Quebec is worrying, because the Quebec wing is strongly liberal on social issues. The ones who have recently spoken in the name of the Conservative party in Quebec would be shockingly liberal for the Conservatives of the West. Senator Pierre-Claude Nolin, the only French-Canadian from Quebec in the Conservative caucus, supports gay “marriage” and abortion on demand. Some observers wonder why he is still considered a Conservative senator and why he did not resign from the Conservative caucus when the Alliance and the PC party merged in 2003, like his socially liberal colleague Jean-Claude Rivest. Such critics do not understand that Senator Nolin has a lot of power with his position within the Conservative party. His aim is to move the party toward the left on social policies, particularly at the convention in March, and he has been quite successful up to now with his small team and the support of other social liberals like Belinda Stronach.
In November, he organized a meeting in Quebec City of the Quebec wing of the party and created a “francophone forum” within the party, to promote so-called Quebec values, by which he means socially liberal values, at the convention. Belinda Stronach and Peter MacKay were present at this event. He can count on Stephen Harper’s political lieutenant in Quebec, Josée Verner, who is also clearly a social liberal. In the middle of the last election campaign, she proclaimed that she was in favor of gay “marriage.” Harper gave her this strategic position because she scored well at the last election in Louis-Saint-Laurent, a Quebec City area riding, but she is intellectually shallow. Nolin can manipulate her easily.
Another important actor on this socially liberal team, Brian Mitchell, a bilingual lawyer from Montreal, wants to become president of the Conservative party’s national council. That is another issue for the convention, beside the policies of the program and the confidence vote on Harper’s leadership – the election of the members of the national council by the delegates from the provinces. Quebec will elect three members, Ontario four and the other provinces, two or one. The president will be elected by those council members. Mitchell has already campaigned and spent a lot of money throughout Canada. He thinks that he will sweep Quebec and will win the presidency from this stronghold. Again, here, socially liberal Quebec may make the difference.
There is also a danger at the leadership confidence vote. Harper was beaten by Belinda Stronach in the province by a two-to-one margin in last year’s leadership race. Stronach’s supporters, a bunch of professional political operatives, are the same ones who support Brian Mitchell today. Many of them, and quite a few ex-candidates, were not happy with Harper’s performance in Quebec in the last election and even blamed him for the poor results because he was opposed to gay marriage. Harper will be in a difficult position if the social liberals vote against him. As it stands now, their position is stronger than it was at the last Conservative leadership race. They could represent 90 per cent of the Quebec delegates at the convention. Harper cannot count on their vote. With 90 per cent of Quebec’s delegates against him, his leadership, the unity of the Conservative party and the conservative soul of the party might be in jeopardy. This is especially alarming. when one considers that Belinda Stronach is waiting in the wings.