WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?
By Scott Hayward
This was a question that many Members of Parliament, electoral district association (EDA) presidents, National Councillors, and party staff were asking each other when pro-lifers answered the call to take their rightful place as delegates for the 2021 Conservative Party of Canada policy convention.
Many of you reading this blog have told us your stories of how sitting Members of Parliament called you and asked you why you are running or have had sitting EDA presidents email you long rants about why you should not be running. Some MPs even sent lists out explicitly telling unwitting members who to vote for as delegates, leaving you off their lists. We want you to know that although frustrating, this is an exceptionally good sign. It's good because it means we are winning. Those who do not share our values within the party (who are in the distinct minority) felt the first of what will be many instances of their tenuous grip on the party slip away.
As the pro-life movement matures within the Conservative Party of Canada and we take our rightful place within the party’s structure (i.e., EDA boards of directors, National Council, election candidates, and leaders) there are sure to be bumps along the way and forceful attempts to set us back by those who do not share our values.
That is how we know that they’re on the run. The pro-life movement took a big step forward in this policy convention and here's why.
Shortly after the 2020 Conservative Party of Canada leadership race, RightNow was approached by a member of National Council who informed us that a virtual policy convention was likely to be held sometime in March 2021. Consequently, the fees for the convention would be significantly lowered and the ancillary costs of a delegate (re: flights, hotels, and meals) would be nil for this policy convention. We saw this as a great opportunity to encourage pro-lifers to attend the policy convention and pass some pro-life policies.
We got to work immediately and reached out to a variety of pro-life organizations to create a cohesive, unified front on behalf of the movement for the convention. I am happy to say that most of the pro-life organizations responded positively and we were able to fashion a coalition of around ten different pro-life organizations from across Canada.
We organized a weekly Zoom call (starting in December 2020) that spanned five time-zones to accommodate as many members of our working group as possible. Additionally, we organized a weekly Zoom call (also starting in December 2020) that spanned six time-zones for the pro-life EDA presidents and policy chairs to organize the pro-life policy and constitutional proposals for this convention.
Unfortunately, not all the pro-life organizations we reached out to accepted our invitation to work together. Nonetheless we marched forward.
The first order of business was to ensure that we had enough pro-life delegates to the convention. At the previous Conservative Party convention, the pro-life movement came just 107 votes shy of eliminating the only pro-abortion policy in the policy declaration. At that time, we had only identified 200 full voting pro-life delegates attending that convention, so we calculated that if we were able to increase that number to around 350, then we should be able to get enough pro-life delegates to pass our pro-life policies.
We were able to recruit and identify over 1,100 delegates through our database. And over 85% of them secured a full voting delegate spot.
In essence, we were able to blow past our goal of 350 pro-life delegates by almost tripling our result.
As such, we decided that not only would we put forward a motion to delete the only pro-abortion policy in the party’s policy declaration (coined the "Delete 70 proposal), but we would propose a policy to legally restrict sex-selective and late-term abortions, two issues that 84% and 70% of Canadians, respectively, agree with us on and something to significantly differentiate the Conservatives from the Liberals.
For this policy convention, the process for putting forward policies included EDA board of directors posting a policy as approved by their board on an internal website called IdeasLab. For a policy to be voted on by the other EDAs, it required three other EDAs to co-sponsor the policy (each EDA can sponsor and/or co-sponsor up to ten policies).
For both pro-life policies we had well over the required number of co-sponsorships from EDAs in a variety of ridings in almost every province.
It was established early in the process for this convention that only the top 30 policies would advance to the convention and that there would be no regional meetings. These regional meetings are physical meetings open to all members of the party within a province where they will vote on policies as introduced by EDAs in their province that meet the co-sponsorship requirements. The most popular voted policy by the members at a regional meeting would automatically advance to the convention, regardless of its standing in IdeasLab.
Once a policy met the requirements to be voted on, the EDAs would cast votes and the 30 most popularly voted policies would advance to the convention. Each EDA was allocated up to 25 votes.
We knew that we had to get a high number of votes on IdeasLab for our pro-life policies from the other EDAs. Going into this convention process, we knew that this would be our weak spot. In the 2018 policy convention, there were 543 policies that could be voted on IdeasLab with the top 70 advancing (since that convention had break-out sessions and this one did not).
To make matters more difficult, some pro-life organizations actively dissuaded pro-life EDAs and members of the party from getting the sex-selective/late-term abortion policy through to the convention because it was an incremental policy. This is truly where the pro-life movement is its own worst enemy. Not only do our organizations and others have to take-on pro-abortion supporters, but in these cases, pro-life ones as well. It's unfortunate some cannot learn from mistakes made decades ago and are so willing to repeat them.
We knew if we had any chance of getting our policies passed, we needed to do the math. So we looked at the 30th spot from the IdeasLab in 2018 and adjusted it for 196 policy proposals (since fewer policies overall would mean there could be more votes earned for each policy). Based on the numbers, this meant that 45 EDA votes should have been sufficient to advance our pro-life policies to the convention.
For the Delete 70 policy we were able to garner 64 EDA votes and for the late-term/sex-selective abortion policy we ere able to earn 53 EDA votes.
In both cases we blew past our EDA vote goals. However, it would not be enough. The 30th most popularly voted policy earned around 90 votes, meaning we were well short of our goal.
We were heading into the Conservative Party convention with likely the highest number of pro-life delegates ever, with essentially no substantive pro-life policies. While we were crestfallen that we had come up short for getting the pro-life policies to the convention floor, it highlighted a weak spot that is easy for the pro-life movement to shore up, and that is taking our rightful place on the EDA boards of directors.
While some pro-life organizations attributed our unsuccessful attempt to get pro-life policies to convention to dirty, nasty tricks in the party, we knew that it was because pro-lifers have not taken their rightful place on their EDA boards of directors.
In fact, there were some pro-life EDA boards of directors who voted for an extreme pro-abortion policy (which did very poorly on IdeasLab in terms of EDA votes), whose entire delegate slate was pro-life.
This established that there is a massive disconnect between those who sit on the EDA board of directors and those who are members of the party in the EDA. The only way to rectify this disconnect is for pro-lifers to sit on those EDA boards of directors by being elected in the upcoming Annual General Meetings (AGMs) in autumn 2021 and spring 2022.
We refocused on what we could accomplish at the convention, which was focusing on policies that touched on our pro-life issues:
- National adoption strategy and tax credit
- Free speech on campuses
- Income tax splitting for families
- Retaining the party’s strong stance against assisted suicide
- Increasing the charitable tax credit
In all instances we passed these policies with large majorities.
On the constitution side, there were some amendments that we wanted defeated (i.e., lengthening the amount of time one is required to be a member of the party to vote in nominations and elections) and some that we wanted passed (i.e., further defining the length of terms that one can sit on National Council and the National Policy and Constitution committees).
In the case of the 35 constitutional amendments, we were able to get 29 to be voted in accordance with our recommended voting guide.
THE NATIONAL COUNCIL
The final order of business was electing our slate of National Council candidates. There were ten seats that our candidates were contesting and another two in which our candidates were acclaimed. Of the ten contested seats, we were able to win eight for a total of ten RightNow-supported National Councillors. Given that there are currently 18 National Councillors (two seats are vacant), we have a majority on National Council for the time being.
RightNow had spoken to 14 of the 26 National Council candidates seeking elections in the contested seats. After speaking to those who would respond to our requests, we had to decide which candidates to recommend to pro-life delegates across Canada. A criterion that we wanted to apply to the National Council candidates that we apply to federal and provincial politicians is supporting those who support us.
It is the first time since the creation of the Conservative Party of Canada that pro-lifers have a majority on National Council.
This is significant as National Council hears and votes on appeals for nomination contestants who are disqualified by the National Candidate Selection Committee. National Council also creates the Leadership Election Organizing Committee (LEOC) which establishes the rules and oversees the leadership race within the party.
While delegates vote on policies at a party policy convention and politicians vote on legislation, the only items related to the pro-life movement a National Councillor will vote on is the requalification of pro-life candidates disqualified for spurious reasons and the establishment LEOC. We decided to stand strong by those who had stood strong by us during the last three years.
Another criterion we focused on for the National Council elections was communication. When a candidate is disqualified by the National Candidate Selection Committee, there is oftentimes only 24-48 hours to make an appeal to National Council. We need National Councillors who will not only vote our way on such appeals, but also be able to communicate with us relatively quickly so that we can secure their votes and have them help us secure more votes on National Council.
So where do we go from here?
Pro-lifers are here to stay in the Conservative Party of Canada. We have shown that with the election of Andrew Scheer as leader, the number of pro-lifers nominated and elected as new Conservative MPs in the last federal election, the election of Erin O’Toole as the new leader of the party, and now two policy conventions in a row.
However, there is still work to be done.
If pro-lifers had taken their rightful place on their local Conservative EDA boards of directors, then we would have been able to secure enough votes to get our pro-life policies to the convention floor and passed at this convention. It's a weak spot in our movement, however it's a weak spot that can be easily strengthened as we have enough numbers in most ridings to have a pro-life majority on the EDA boards of directors. We will be in touch in the coming weeks to prepare for the round of Annual General Meetings (AGMs) this coming autumn (2021) and next spring (2022) to help pro-lifers take their rightful place.
Uniting the movement
At the beginning of this process, we had reached out to a variety of pro-life organizations to work with us on this convention. We were pleased by the number of pro-life organizations who had responded to the call of unity. We had weekly calls together, took in their concerns and made sure that our communications and recommendations reflected the input of all the groups working together. We discussed both strategy and tactics; the pro-life movement within the party and overall came out all the stronger.
We will continue to make further attempts to include even more pro-life organizations in our working group as we move forward and work to ensure that enough pro-life politicians are elected and pro-life laws are finally passed in Canada.
We have begun the process of reaching out to all the pro-life National Councillors who won their positions, including to those who were not endorsed by RightNow in lieu of other worthy candidates. We feel it is imperative that we work together as much as possible going forward.
We will keep you abreast of our efforts to seek unity within the movement in the political sphere, both in times of success and in times of when our pleas for unity fall on deaf ears.
What RightNow can do better
We will be working to encourage some suggestions and constructive criticism on what we as an organization can do better for future policy conventions from other pro-life organizations, pro-life Conservative EDA presidents and policy chairs, full voting delegates and delegate applicants, as well as our supporters across Canada.
That being said, please note that some of our 'missed opportunities' is due to budget constraints. Organizing pro-lifers to take their rightful place in political parties is a very intensive effort. There were a lot of nights (my wife can attest to this) of going to bed well past midnight and getting up a few hours later and working straight through to ensure that:
- our pro-lifers purchased a membership on time to apply as delegates
- that pro-life members applied as delegates before the deadline
- we assisted delegate applicants in uploading their identification so that they can run
- we assisted pro-life delegate applicants write their biographies and upload them
- the creation of slates for all 338 individual EDAs and encouraging our pro-life members to register to vote in the virtual delegate selection meetings through an individual e-blast to each EDA
- calling and emailing EDAs to put forward pro-life policies
- winning votes on EDAs to co-sponsor pro-life policies
- winning votes amongst the EDAs to get our pro-life policies into the top 30 to advance to convention
- recruiting and training National Council candidates, assisting National Council candidates with their applications (including attaining 50 signatures of existing members for their province or territory in which they were running)
- reviewing the proposed policy and constitutional amendments and creating a recommendation
- working with other pro-life organizations to create a plan for a Zoom call the week before the convention for all the pro-life delegates and delegate applicants which included our National Council candidates and current National Councillors to explain the process and answer questions for our delegates and delegate applicants
- and creating, sending, and responding to communications on all the above.
The longer RightNow goes without additional staff, the more opportunities we will miss. As you can see, there is ample room for error in the above exhaustive list (and we did make some errors), but we were able to attain a fairly good result for pro-lifers at this convention. I can only imagine the results we could get if we could afford just two more staff members for a total of four full-time staff…
WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?
To answer this common question that has bedeviled those Members of Parliament, EDA presidents, National Councillors, and party staff during this convention process, these people are those silent pro-lifers who have consistently donated, volunteered, and most importantly voted for the Conservative Party of Canada since its inception.
These people are pro-life.
They are not fringe (if they were, they would not have won a majority of the delegate spots).
They are not one-issue voters, but they are number one issue voters.
And most importantly, they are not going away.
Pro-lifers have patiently and silently been part of a voting coalition for the Conservative Party that asks for their time and money, but in return does not offer anything substantive on their number one issue, despite polling information that indicates its overall popularity.
It is long past time for the other members of this voting coalition to put some wine into the water of pro-lifers and since those other members seem unwilling to do it of their own volition, pro-lifers are now doing it ourselves.
We’re here. We’re pro-life. And we're winning. Get used to it.