There was cause for both celebration and disappointment at the Conservative convention last month in Vancouver when approximately 2500 party members gathered to debate policy for the party as it prepares for the 2019 federal election. There were victories in both the breakout sessions and the plenary meeting: a proposal to support euthanasia was unmercifully killed in the policy session and proposals to oppose gendercide abortions and support conscience rights for medical staff made it to the full convention floor and passed. A constitutional amendment recognizing the value and dignity of all human life was adopted, although we will have to wait and see if it has any bearing on the abortion debate.
On the losing side for pro-family conservatives, the grassroots caved to the loud LGBTory lobby to jettison the party’s stance in favour of traditional marriage defined as one man and one woman, in favour of silence on the issue, effectively recognizing the redefinition of marriage foisted upon Canada more than a decade ago. This was adopted for purely political reasons: the narrative, both in the media and among political strategists, that opposition to same-sex “marriage” costs the party votes. Pleas from social conservatives, who argued that support for traditional marriage was necessary to grow Conservative Party support in immigrant communities, especially among the growing Asian and African population in the cities and suburbs, were ignored.
Conventions are strange creatures, a mix of grassroots citizens from all over the country and party elite who often do politics professionally. There is always a tension between the two: the elite need the grassroots to donate, volunteer, and run local riding associations, but if possible those running the party and advising the politicians wish rank-and-file members to be silent on policy and how the party is run. However, for the grassroots to be invested in the party to give both their time and money, they need to feel their opinions matter. In a fair world, you would win some and lose some, which is what happened.
The problem is that the world is not fair and as we report in a separate story, some party elite, including interim leader Rona Ambrose, manipulated the policy process to prevent pro-life and pro-family policy resolutions from making it to the convention. The grassroots fought back and almost had the constitution changed through the For Your Policy initiative, which were it successful, would have made it possible – but not easy – to have policy introduced at convention, which would be useful to reinsert popular policies nixed by party elite. There is no indication that For Your Policy was the victim of skulduggery. Furthermore, the convention did adopt a constitutional amendment taking away the ability of the caucus to unilaterally and arbitrarily make deletions to the party’s policy book once every decade. The grassroots demanded to be heard and respected.
There were more wins than losses for pro-life and pro-family Conservatives. But were it not for the many socially conservative grassroots members who were engaged in the policy process at the riding and regional levels, and especially those who got themselves elected delegates in their home ridings and attended the national convention, none of the good policies would have been adopted. And the corollary of this is if more social conservatives became involved, the convention would not have been able to scrap the traditional definition of marriage.
There is a lesson in all this which harkens back to the warning of former Liberal MP Tom Wappel that if we do not become involved in the political parties we support and stand up for our values, we cede the political process to those who are willing to fight for their principles. Half the battle is simply showing up.