There’s a line from the musical Hamilton that’s been on repeat in my head: “I wanna be in the room where it happens.” That’s why I attended the Conservative Policy Convention this past September: I wanted to be where the decisions are made that change history.
Now, it turns out, Canadian history isn’t changed in one room; it starts in 338 rooms across the country. Ridings, rather. In each of these ridings, there is a local Conservative board called the Electoral District Association, or EDA. Each EDA is made up of a group of about 15-30 locals. The EDA hosts local Conservative events and they represent the party to the riding. They also create policies and policy amendments that are voted on at the bi-annual Conservative Policy Convention. And last but not least, they send delegates to the Convention. In other words, the EDA is the voice of the Conservative Party to the riding and also the voice of the riding to the Party.
Attending the latest Convention as a delegate, I was struck by just how much impact you have when you’re willing to show up. So here I am, typing.
Day one was speeches and mingling. On the second day, delegates split into three different breakout sessions: one on social issues, one on economic issues, and one on foreign policy. Here, delegates are deciding what policies will make it to final voting: only 10 out of 20 policies in each session will move forward.
Social issues were the last on the agenda for the plenary voting. The ten that had made it through were voted on by all the delegates. The “for” and “against” sides advocated back and forth until we were ready for a vote.
- A new friend had 30 seconds to advocate a policy against child pornography. We cheered so loud we never heard his finish.
- A 15-year-old girl spoke against men using women’s spaces. We clapped so emphatically my hands hurt.
- Finally, my trip was made worth it when we voted against expanding doctor-assisted suicide to youth and the mentally ill. That passed with flying colors.
Now, it’s important to note that party leader Pierre Poilievre isn’t bound to these party policies. Policy Conventions tell leaders what their EDA’s and members care about, and they give principles for decisions made in Parliament – you know, that other important room. But just because policies aren’t binding, doesn’t mean they don’t offer some form of accountability – it doesn’t look great for a leader to ignore their grassroots.
Some of what happened was less encouraging.
A policy that would’ve removed the current abortion policy was short three EDA’s votes in order to make it to convention. The policy it would’ve removed states, “A Conservative government will not support legislation to regulate abortion.”
Throughout the Convention, one name kept coming up: Gerrit Van Dorland was a Reformed Christian nominee seeking the Conservative candidacy in Oxford, ON. The former MP had stepped down and the seat was open. Van Dorland was disqualified by an EDA committee from the race, and a fly-in candidate (someone not from the riding) won the nomination.
Van Dorland appealed to National Council, and the majority wouldn’t overturn his disqualification. Three members voted in favor of the appeal and 11 voted against.
Why? The party said that he failed to disclose something in his application. Nobody in the room will/is allowed to say exactly what.
Some people have speculated that Van Dorland was disqualified on a technicality because some of the party leaders had a preferred candidate. Others take it further, saying that Van Dorland was disqualified for his Christian values – but we see other candidates who share those values remain in the party.
One policy voted down in the preliminaries was on the transparency of National Council – that policy would’ve made the whole situation… well, transparent.
Delegates from each province vote in members of National Council. This situation made me realize that National Council can have a big impact on disqualification. Funny enough, a familiar name – former ARPA Canada Lighthouse News anchor Al Siebring – was a name on the Alberta ballot. He lost by less than 30 votes.
In two years, at the next Convention, we will have a chance to vote again – a chance to bring new policies to the table, and to vote again on National Council. With just a few hundred delegates from each province, our votes have a loud voice. In B.C., there was a four-vote difference on two National Council members. In two years, we could also pass that policy on the transparency of council.
More than that, we may yet have the chance to give some anti-abortion policy a standing ovation.
What we’re told is true – Poilievre doesn’t call himself pro-life, and the Conservative party won’t yet touch abortion. But when you are in the Conservative party, you have the opportunity to shape the Conservative party. What the party looks like in ten years is, in some ways, up to us.