THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY
BY SCOTT HAYWARD
The other night, my in-laws were asking me at our daughter’s second birthday party how the 2023 Conservative Party of Canada policy convention went in Quebec City. My poor in-laws thought they were asking a simple question and probably expected a simple answer. However, like most things in politics, the answer is complex with a lot of nuance and background.
So, I will tell you the same thing I should have told my poor father-in-law. Buckle up, because there was some good, there was some bad, and there was most definitely some ugly.
Let’s start on a positive note with reviewing this convention.
In the Conservative Party of Canada each electoral district association (EDA) board of directors (which is elected by the party members who live in the riding each year) propose and vote on which policies they would like to see make it to the policy convention. Each proposed policy is voted on by every EDA in the country and the top 70 most popular policies, as determined by EDA votes, goes to the Convention. There these policies are split into three categories and voted on by convention delegates in three different break-out workshops held simultaneously at the convention. The top 10 policies from each break-out workshop will then be voted on by all delegates across the country on the final day of convention at the policy plenary session. The voting in the policy break-out workshop occurs by the raising of hands by all delegates present.
If the vote passes, there is automatically a count as only the ten most popular policies advance to the plenary session the next day from each policy break-out workshop. If a vote looks close to the eye of the chair of the meeting, then there will be a count to determine if the policy proposal passed, and if so, by how many votes. The counting of the votes is done manually by party staff as delegates keep their hands raised during the counts.
Each policy proposal must receive a double majority vote at the plenary: (1) a majority of the delegates voting in the room and (2) a majority of the delegates from a majority of the provinces (the three territories constitute one province in this process) to become official Conservative Party policy.
One of the good things we have learned from this convention is that the stymying of pro-life policy proposals and pro-grassroots constitutional amendments is happening later and later in the convention process. This is good news as it means that pro-lifers and pro-grassroots party members are earning more and more control of the convention process.
This was obvious with the policy proposals. The Conservative Party of Canada’s policy document is already full of pro-life policies including:
- Policy 10: free votes in Caucus on matters related to abortion and assisted suicide
- Policy 75: initial ban on utilizing human embryos
- Policy 77: against assisted suicide
- Policy 79: defund abortion overseas
- Policy 89: condemnation of sex-selective abortion
- Policy 96: anti-government values attestation to access government programs
- Policy 112: unborn victims of crime
- Policy 118: born alive protections
To this impressive list, we passed the following policies at this Convention:
- C-2: removal of GST on maternal and newborn products
- C-11: adding palliative care as a right to the Canada Health Act
- C-14: stating that the party is against assisted suicide for those with mental health challenges
However, there is only one pro-abortion policy currently in the party’s policy handbook that reads “A Conservative government will not support legislation to regulate abortion”. This policy was passed at the party’s founding policy convention in Montreal in 2005 by a slim margin, and was almost removed at the convention in Halifax in 2018, where we again, lost by a slim margin.
We had proposed the removal of the only pro-abortion policy for this convention. However, the proposed deletion missed going to convention by three (3) EDA votes.
The bad, was actually not so bad, which was the election of the National Council.
Voting delegates attending the policy convention get to vote for the National Council candidates from their province or territory, if they are not acclaimed. Every province and territory has one National Councillor except for Alberta (2), British Columbia (2), Quebec (3), and Ontario (4).
If there are more candidates than seats from any province or territory, then there is a secret ballot election at the convention where each delegate from that province or territory must fully rank their ballot. For elections where more than two candidates are seeking one seat, the National Council candidates who receive the most votes via ranked ballot win their seat. Each National Council candidate is allowed to have scrutineers during the election and at the counting of the ballots. All National Council candidates must be approved by the Executive Director of the party and there is no appeals process for disqualified National Council candidates.
The National Council is responsible for running the internal affairs of the party, including creating a Leadership Organizing Election Committee (LEOC) which is responsible for creating the rules for leadership races, around the nomination of candidates for general and by-elections, and is the final appeal for the disqualification of nomination contestants.
Earlier this year in March 2023, Gerrit Van Dorland was spuriously disqualified by party insiders and gatekeepers because he was well on the way to winning the nomination contest in Oxford for the by-election that occurred in June. However, Pierre Poilievre and his party insiders and gatekeepers favoured another candidate, who was clearly not going to win the nomination. The only recourse that the party gatekeepers had was to disqualify him (to this day, he has still not received any communication from the party as to why he was disqualified) and lean heavily on National Council to uphold the disqualification.
As some of you will recall, there was a quick and voracious response from party members, independent media, and even from the favoured candidate (Arpan Khanna) to have the disqualification overturned. However, despite thousands of emails from party members across the country, Gerrit lost the vote by a margin of 15-5 at National Council, with one abstention.
We ran a slate of candidates for the National Council elections at the Convention who either voted to not disqualify Gerrit and were running for re-election or who were running for National Council for the first time and promised not to vote to disqualify in a Gerrit Van Dorland situation in the future (which matters as nominations for the next general federal election will occur under the newly-elected National Council).
There were four provinces where there were elections:
- British Columbia
The candidates in other provinces and territories were acclaimed:
- Danny MacDonald (Yukon)
- Tim Syer (Northwest Territories)
- Leona Aglukkaq (Nunavut)
- Colette Stang (Saskatchewan)
- Stephen Barber (Manitoba)
- Kevin Price (New Brunswick)
- Ron MacMillan (Prince Edward Island)
- Christopher Guinan (Nova Scotia)
- Judy Manning (Newfoundland and Labrador)
Of these candidates, only one voted to not disqualify Gerrit, six voted to disqualify Gerrit, and two are unknown as they are new.
For the provinces that had contested seats, out of the eleven seats, we were able to elect five pro-grassroots National Councillors with another three potentially voting pro-grassroots.
Altogether, we increased the number of guaranteed pro-grassroots votes on National Council from five to six, with a potential of at least another three to five votes out of the 21 National Councillors. All this to say, while it is going to be difficult to have a pro-grassroots majority, it is not numerically impossible. Even so, we have an increased and reinvigorated pro-grassroots minority on National Council to push back against party insiders and gatekeepers.
Speaking of Party insiders and gatekeepers, now we should move on to the ugly part of this convention…
The process for constitutional amendments is very similar to that of policy proposals: EDA board of directors propose and vote on constitutional amendments, with the top 30 advancing to the break-out workshop at the convention (which occurs earlier in the day compared to the policy break-out workshops).
Unlike the policy break-out workshops, all of the constitutional amendments that were passed by delegates in the break-out workshop advance to the constitution plenary session the next day. Just as in the policy break-out workshops, votes are determined by raised hands and if the chair of the meeting decides it is too close to determine the vote, then a physical count is conducted by Party staff.
Like at the policy plenary session, each constitutional amendment requires a double majority at the constitutional plenary session: (1) a majority of the delegates voting in the room and (2) a majority of the delegates from a majority of the provinces (the three territories constitute one province in this process).
When discussing the strategy with other pro-grassroots delegates, the decision for helping the pro-grassroots constitutional amendments was to have the speakers in favour of the motions to be very quick. The reason for this was because we were worried that our greatest opposition was going to be time. There were three hours allotted to discussing 37 constitutional amendments, compared to three hours dedicated to discussing 30 policy proposals in the policy break-out workshops later that day.
If the allotted time had expired, then the chair could declare the session to be over and some of the strongest constitutional amendments (including allowing EDAs to overturn the disqualification of a nomination candidate as well as opening nominations in all ridings, including those with sitting MPs, when there is both a majority and minority parliament). We believe these amendments were purposefully placed at the end of the session by the party-appointed convention committee (whose members are not made known to party members and who determine the rules for the chairs governing the convention votes), which means these constitutional amendments could have easily died as time expired.
Nevertheless, it became quite clear early in the constitutional break-out workshop that time was far from our greatest opposition: the party insiders and gatekeepers had reared their ugly heads.
As the delegates raised their hands to vote for or against the second constitutional amendment on the agenda, the chair of the session (none other than the outgoing President of National Council Robert Batherson) declared the motion to be defeated. Groans began to fill the room as it was evident to everyone present that the motion had passed.
Personally, I decided to not make a stink and ask for a vote as I was relatively indifferent to the motion and did not want to delay the process so that we could get to the constitutional amendments that would really open the party’s nomination process to some level of fairness and due process.
However, the same thing happened again as clearly the room voted in favour of the fourth motion when the chair declared otherwise. We lead a cacophony of voices from the floor asking for a counted vote. One could tell that these pro-grassroots constitutional amendments were close votes. If the party counters came back and said we lost the motion by a margin of 30 votes or so out of around 500 votes cast in the room, then that would be logical; you win some close ones and you lose some close ones. But, the party counters came back and said that we had lost that vote by a margin of roughly 120 votes.
The groans became louder and more common.
At that point, I had no fewer than three Members of Parliament (who will remain nameless) approach me in the room and ask me to organize our own counters to audit the counts that the party were conducting.
Strangely enough, when the party staffers noticed that we had our own counters, the chair stopped revealing the results of the counted votes, which is his prerogative, as per the convention rules created by the secretive and party-appointed convention committee.
That is when Scott Reid (the MP for Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston, who has been elected in his seat since 2000 when he was first elected as a Canadian Alliance MP, one of only two from Ontario, and is the current caucus chair) got up verbally tore a strip off of Robert Batherson for not revealing the count totals.
As this was happening, the room was beginning to swell with more delegates. However, these delegates were a bit odd because they arrived to the convention wearing blue party staff ribbons on their name tags, which were replaced by green delegate ribbons. You see, it is the prerogative of the Executive Director of the party to appoint party members from anywhere in the country as delegates for EDAs who did not elect a full slate of 10 delegates (which were many since the convention was held in Quebec City, a place that is difficult to travel to after Labour Day and expensive in non-inflationary economic times).
To be fair, it was the O’Toole party insiders and gatekeepers that chose the date and location of this convention to give himself the best chance possible to survive the automatic leadership review after his election defeat in 2021. Nonetheless, the Poilievre party gatekeepers kept the location and moved it from early August (when airlines are still flying frequently to Quebec City in the summer) to after Labour Day.
I suppose the more the things change, the more the stay the same.
As the room grew with these newly-appointed delegates, the votes were beginning to be clearly lost. We heard of stories of other pro-grassroots delegates trying to enter the constitutional break-out workshop once they caught wind of what the Poilievre party gatekeepers were doing, but were denied entry into the room.
I wish I could say the ugliness ended there, but it continued as one of our pro-grassroots National Council candidates from Ontario mysteriously withdrew at 3:00am, five hours before polls opened for voting. Rumours were swirling that he was pressured by the party gatekeepers during the night to do so.
So, what are we to make of this convention?
Well, it was a mixed bag: there was some good, there was some bad (which really was middling), and there was some ugly.
I am happy to inform you that after the ugliness of this convention, a group of dedicated pro-grassroots party leaders gathered to discuss in great detail what should be done at the next convention to avoid this ugliness. There was a recognition that it has become easier to advance our pro-grassroots constitutional amendments and pro-life policy proposals from the voting by EDAs to the break-out workshops at the convention. The key is now getting more pro-grassroots and pro-life delegates physically to those break-out workshops at the convention.
We also saw to what extent the party insiders and gatekeepers were willing to go to maintain control over the party and keep their increasingly tenuous power to spuriously disqualify excellent candidates like Gerrit Van Dorland, and their grassroots supporters if they are seen as an annoyance.
We also saw the limitations of those party gatekeepers because the very few pro-grassroots constitutional amendments that we were able to early on in the constitutional break-out workshop passed by massive margins at the constitutional plenary the next day.
The Conservative Party of Canada remains the only political party that is viable for electing pro-life Members of Parliament to the House of Commons. The way that the party conducts itself and the rules by which she is governed matters tremendously as we work toward electing more and more pro-life Members of Parliament, and ultimately reaching our goal of electing a pro-life majority.
I encourage you all reading this to work with us and the other pro-grassroots leaders in the party toward the next convention so that I can give my father-in-law a happier answer and we can turn the good, the bad, and the ugly into the good, the great, and the greatest at the next policy convention.