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Being in the room at the Conservative Convention

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.

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The Rhinoceros Party: politics has always been absurd, but 30 years ago, even more so

Politics may seem especially absurd these days, but it didn’t start here. In Canada, the wackiness goes back at least a few decades, to the founding of the Rhinoceros Party. Founded in 1963 by Jacques Ferron, this party claimed to be inspired by a Brazilian rhinoceros, Cacareco, who had been elected to a city council in Brazil in 1958. The Canadians needed a rhino closer to home though, so the movement chose Cornelius the First, a rhinoceros in the Granby Zoo near Montreal as their leader. The party existed from 1963 until 1993 when it was officially dissolved, but it was resurrected in 2007, though with an arguably cruder edge to its humor. That edge might reflect the new times in which the party found itself. Big promises The Rhinoceros Party promised what some would say any other party did: the completely impossible. For example, at one time or another the Rhinoceros Party promised to: Abolish the Law of Gravity. They also hoped to give the unemployed the right to strike. They sought to reduce the speed of light since it’s much too fast. The Rhinos wanted provide higher education by building taller schools. They promised to end crime by abolishing all laws. They were in favor of adopting the British system of driving on the left instead of the right. This would be brought in gradually starting with large trucks, then buses, and then small cars and bicycles. They sought to Declare war on Belgium. In one of the Tintin books, the Belgian hero killed a rhino. War could be avoided if the Belgian embassy in Canada delivered a case of mussels and a case of Belgian beer to the head office of the Rhino Party. Interestingly, though the Rhinos never elected a single representative to Parliament, the Belgian embassy did come through on the mussels and beer. They wanted to impose an import quota on cold winter weather. The only seasons that would be allowed were to be salt, pepper, mustard and vinegar. Preying on Canadians distrust of their southern neighbors, the Rhinos promised to count the Thousand Island in case the Americans had stolen some. Perhaps the only promise that the Rhinoceros Party might have kept was that if they were ever able to form the government, they would promptly resign thereby forcing a new election. Just cursing the darkness In its attempts at humor, the Rhinoceros Party sometimes descended into crudity. Arguably, they were no worse than many of the politicians who currently grace the world stage. They did point out the absurdity of the promises made by many politicians who make promises they have either thought out poorly and find they cannot keep, or who may make ones so grandiose they know in advance they’ll never be able to follow through. But while humor points out the absurd and the weaknesses of Canadian parties and politicians, it doesn’t suggest an alternative. The Rhinoceroses in the party tore down the pretensions of the proud, but failed to replace them with anything more reasonable. Retiring the Rhino The original Rhinoceros Party met its demise in 1993. In order to stay a registered party, each party had to run candidates in 50 electoral districts, a feat that was too difficult at the time for the Rhinos. Consequently, in protest, the party chose to abstain from the 1993 election. The chief officer of Elections Canada ordered that the party be dissolved and money from the sale of assets was to be sent to the Canadian government’s Receiver General. Party leader Charlie MacKenzie refused, and after two years of back and forth, Elections Canada declined to prosecute MacKenzie making him Canada’s self-described “least wanted fugitive.” James Dykstra is a sometimes history teacher, author, and podcaster. This article is taken from an episode of his podcast, “where history is never boring.” Find it at, or on Spotify, Google podcasts, or wherever you find your podcasts. IF RHINOS JOINED THE CHP by Jon Dykstra One of the best policy proposals the Rhinoceros Party of Canada ever made went something like this: “Currently, convicted murderers get life, and unborn babies often get death. We’ll swap that around.” It was a good policy told with punch, and short enough to fit on a t-shirt. The only problem? I’m not sure it ever happened. I thought it did, but when I started searching for the when and where, I found there’s nothing online to back up my hazy recall. It also strikes me as being out of step with the rest of the party’s generally frivolous stands – it’s too emphatically pro-life. So if it wasn’t the Rhinos, might it have been the Christian Heritage Party (CHP)? They are pro-life – Canada's only pro-life party – but it struck me as a bit too "quippy" for them. It almost seems like a combination of the two parties: a satiric Rhino-ish take but one that doesn’t just tear down, but offers a Christian alternative. And yes, a CHP vet remembers them running something like this in years past. Turns out the CHP has a little Rhino in it.  ...