OTTAWA — Conservative party members will debate a range of policy proposals at next weekend's convention but so far, none will be about abortion.
That's despite a flat-out push by anti-abortion groups to get several proposals up for debate, including their Holy Grail: deleting the existing policy that a Conservative government will not regulate abortion.
But only 34 of the 196 ideas submitted by the party's riding associations will go to the virtual convention for debate and votes by all the delegates. Those priority policy resolutions were chosen after rounds of preliminary voting by electoral district associations working with a streamlined policy process due to the virtual nature of the event.
Those that did make the cut include one aimed at protecting free speech on campuses and another giving more power to the ethics commissioner to punish MPs and senators.
There are also proposed modifications to existing policies, including the party's stance on the environment, with one devoted to making one thing crystal clear: "We recognized that climate change is real. The Conservative party is willing to act."
The suite of resolutions, and changes that are also being proposed to the party's constitution, were released late Wednesday.
Efforts by anti-abortion groups to advance their cause aren't necessarily over. Their next effort is to try and get a line in the party's constitution which reads Conservatives "officially embrace the sanctity of all human life 'from conception to natural death.'"
To do that, they want to use a provision in the constitution that allows constitutional amendments to be considered if they're supported with signatures of delegates from at least 100 electoral district associations.
But whether they will be able to do that is unclear, as the rules for the convention don't provide that as an option and they appear to supersede the constitution. The party was unable to immediately provide clarity late Wednesday.
The work of socially conservative groups to dominate the convention began months ago and gained new momentum when Leader Erin O'Toole kicked Derek Sloan out of the Conservative caucus for what was called a pattern of destructive behaviour.
Sloan, a social conservative, had amassed a solid following in that faction of the party during last year's leadership race and his ouster left a sour taste among his supporters.
He vowed to retaliate by getting enough delegates to the convention to ensure the party remained "true blue." That was a dig at O'Toole, who used that phrase during the leadership race and promised social conservatives he'd have their backs.
O'Toole has brushed off the notion social conservatives are mounting a challenge to his leadership but he also appeared to be sending a signal Wednesday he's not sidelining them.
Leslyn Lewis, who finished third in the leadership race, and also has strong support in more right-wing circles, was named the host of the convention, together with Archy Beaudry, a Quebec radio host.
Lewis is running for the party in the next election in a safe Conservative seat in rural Ontario.
"With the Liberals clearly planning for an election soon, this convention is important for our party members to gather, share ideas, and plot the road map to securing Canada’s future with an Erin O’Toole-led Conservative government,” she said in a statement.
“Getting as many people back to work, in every part of Canada, in every sector, as quickly as possible is job one for Conservatives, and I’m looking forward to hearing and seeing the ideas from our grassroots members.”
The party said over 5,500 Conservatives have registered to attend the three-day event, which they called a record.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 10, 2021.
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press