Every two years the Conservative Party of Canada holds a National Convention, as mandated in our party’s Constitution. This national gathering has the power to amend and adopt our Policy Document, amend the Party’s Constitution, and elect National Council by secret ballot. The 2016 Convention took place from May 26 to 28 at the Vancouver Convention Centre. Nearly 2000 delegates selected from all ridings across Canada (up to 10 delegate per riding) along with caucus members, riding association presidents and candidates in the last election, were eligible to vote on these matters. University-Rosedale sent 10 delegates to participate in the various forums and meetings, and here is our report along with some pictures to try to capture the feel of the event.
The Vancouver Convention Centre is an excellent facility, located on the waterfront, looking out onto Vancouver Harbour, with a beautiful backdrop. It’s in a lively part of town, full of restaurants and shops. It was quite rainy through most of the convention, though we saw some fair weather on the Friday.
Thursday May 26th saw the opening of the convention, with our interim leader Rona Ambrose taking the microphone, followed by Laureen Harper and finally our former Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper. Every speaker stressed the importance of maintaining party unity if we are to be able to succeed in future elections. In a gracious and selfless speech Mr. Harper thanked all the many people that had put the Conservative Party of Canada into power for nearly 10 years, ending of course by thanking his family for the support that made it possible.
Friday’s main events were the breakout sessions for the first round of discussion and voting on Policy and Constitution changes and amendments. The CPC Policy Declaration is not a legally binding document for future laws, but points the party leadership to the will and desires of its grassroots supporters. It is said that when he was Prime Minister, Mr. Harper would look to the Policy Declaration as one place for guidance when new policies were proposed.
In preparation for the Convention, Conservative riding associations had met in January and February throughout Canada to suggest changes to the Party’s governing documents – the Constitution and the Policy Declaration. Through a series of local and then regional meetings, as well as online discussions, the many suggestions made were reduced to a manageable number to be discussed further in Vancouver.
On Friday, the policy discussions were divided into three sessions, each attended by hundreds of delegates – Role of Government, Environment and Economic Development; Criminal Justice and Social Policy; and Foreign Policy, Canadian Culture and Diversity. At each of these breakout sessions, delegates discussed and then voted upon policies, with the top 10 from each room moving on to the final vote at the Plenary session the next day. A similar process occurred for changes and amendments that would be proposed for the CPC Constitution.
The discussions were at times fairly passionate, especially in the Social Policy room, but the moderators did an excellent job of keeping things moving, while being flexible enough to let strong feelings be heard. Throughout even the most difficult disagreements, delegates to the convention always displayed respect to one another, and the discussion was informed and reasoned. We can be proud of this, regardless of which side of the discussion we took.
Those proposals that had sufficient support at the breakout sessions made it to the Plenary Session on Saturday May 28th, where all delegates in attendance would vote.
On Saturday all delegates came together in two plenary sessions, the morning dedicated to Constitution issues and the afternoon for Policy Document changes that had made it out of the breakout sessions. As in the previous day, a microphones was set up to speak for those who supported the policy, and another for those who opposed it. We were organized by province, as the tally included not only the overall vote, but province-by-province vote, since a “double majority” (majority of total votes AND a majority of provinces in support) was required to pass a new or amended policy.
Some of the policies that were passed included support for the development of Energy East Pipeline by private industry, removal of a statement defining marriage as being the union of one man and one woman, conscience rights for religious organizations to not participate in activities that are incompatible with their faith and beliefs, declaring support and respect for law abiding firearms ownership and enjoyment, and allowing peace officers to give tickets for possession of small quantities of marijuana rather than going through the criminal justice system. A policy on euthanasia did not pass the breakout session with sufficient support to make it to the plenary sessions but generated intense and thoughtful discussion.
The contribution of LGBTory members from University-Rosedale deserves special mention, as they spearheaded the change to the marriage policy, working together with fellow conservatives across Canada, taking the policy change through local and regional meetings, and in Vancouver through the breakout and then plenary sessions. When this policy change passed, with support of several MPs who spoke in favour, it was the most emotional moment of the convention.
Throughout even the most difficult disagreements, delegates to the convention always displayed respect to one another, and the discussion was informed and reasoned. We can be proud of this, whether or not we supported the policy that ended up passing.
Among many other activities were a variety of sessions put on by the CPC to discuss tools for successful campaigning and fundraising, a debriefing session to discuss October’s election, and the three declared leadership candidates also took the stage to answer questions from the large audience.
An important part of the meeting was selecting our new National Council representatives. There were 4 selected from Ontario, and University-Rosedale’s own Ghina al Sewaidi was a candidate. Scott Lamb is the new President of the Conservative Party of Canada, taking over from John Walsh, who has done a tremendous job over the past 7 years. The dedication and effort that this job requires cannot be overstated. Thank you John for all you’ve done, and thank you Scott for taking on this challenging role.
Evenings saw many smaller gatherings in the hospitality suites of various organizations, leadership candidates, and of course the Fabulous Blue Tent (always the biggest party at the convention).
It was an exhilarating few days. To people who have not attended one of these events before, the most striking impression one gets from the event is of how broadly based and energetic this party is. It’s obvious that all Canadians who believe in conservative ideas are welcome in the CPC – there are no barriers of sex, origin, language, race, religion, or sexual orientation. We have huge numbers of young active conservatives, and this promises a bright future. Our supporters contribute of their time and money more than those of the other parties, and we know that being conservative, they are just more sensible. The future looks good, we just have to get out there and mobilize all these resources to take Canada back to a better future in 2019.