Conservative Convention 2018 primer: Here's what to expect
Andrew Scheer speaks after being elected the new leader of the federal Conservative party at the federal Conservative leadership convention in Toronto on Saturday, May 27, 2017. (Frank Gunn / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Monday, August 20, 2018 10:38AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 22, 2018 3:31PM EDT
OTTAWA -- Conservative Party members from across Canada will convene in Halifax on Thursday to plot their campaign strategy and vote on potential policy.
The three-day gathering on the East Coast will be the party’s final convention before the 2019 election, and Andrew Scheer’s first as leader. There, attendees will hear from him about the direction he plans to take the party.
Party faithful will have multiple chances to liaise with each other, and Conservative newcomers, to start building volunteer bases in ridings nationwide. It’s also an opportunity to interact with members of the federal caucus on key issues.
The party expects attendance to hit nearly 3,000 people, including many of the 97 Conservative MPs and their staff.
Emcees for the weekend will be Deputy Conservative Leader Lisa Raitt and New Brunswick lawyer and past leadership debate moderator Monica Barley.
"We’ll be putting forward ideas that will shape the future of our country, and help our party, helping us set the course for 2019," Scheer said in a video to supporters encouraging them to chip in hundreds of dollars to be a part of the three-day event.
Despite the party’s best-laid plans, one dissident MP, Maxime Bernier, and his ongoing social media discourse is sure to take some of the focus away from party unity, a year away from the Conservatives’ next best chance to regain power.
According to his office, Bernier is planning on attending the convention.
The federal caucus will be holding a closed-door meeting at the convention to discuss the latest political matters, which is very likely to include a conversation on -- as Scheer put it -- his expectation that members of his team are focused on the same goal: a Conservative government in 2019.
Here’s a comprehensive rundown on what you need to know in advance:
Scheer, Brexiteer, provincial leaders to speak
The convention kicks off Thursday with a full day of sessions, including conversations with MPs on several key topics for the party, and election preparation like canvassing, building campaign teams and "working with the media."
Part of the building campaign team workshop will be discussing how to manage human resources. Hann said this will include a rundown of what the party policy is on harassment. Both the NDP and Liberal conventions featured a guest speaker and session on sexual harassment.
Expected to speak during the first day of the convention is European Member of Parliament Daniel Hannan, who wrote the book: "What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit."
That evening the party has penciled in time for a convention tradition: hospitality suites, usually hosted by various caucuses or teams, where delegates can mingle and imbibe.
On Friday, delegates can attend sessions on social media training, using various campaign get-out-the-vote tools, and on community outreach. Among the speakers will be newly elected Quebec MP Richard Martel.
Friday is also the day for policy breakout sessions. For three hours, delegates will get to vote on potential party policy changes, before the policy plenary on Saturday.
Friday evening will be Scheer’s big speech. He will address the convention for the first time since taking the party’s helm in 2017. The speech is expected to include his vision of the party’s direction moving towards 2019, both from a policy and personality standpoint. He is going to be introduced by former cabinet minister and ex-MP Peter MacKay.
On the final day of the convention, policy comes front and centre with the three-hour plenary on the Conservative Constitution, followed by the plenary on policy. This is where the most popular proposals will be voted on. More on the policies up for deliberation down below.
Among those set to address delegates that day are a roster of provincial conservative leaders.
That evening the party is ending the three-day convention with an East Coast kitchen party hosted at Pier 21, the immigration museum, put on by the Halifax Conservative Association.
Voting on future party policy
Another key plank of the convention will be policy deliberation. It’ll stretch over Friday and Saturday, first voting on the highest-ranked policies in three separate breakout sessions, followed by up to 30 successful propositions being debated and voted on at the Saturday plenary.
The successful initiatives will be added to the party’s policy declaration. Among what will be considered: killing supply management; boosting interprovincial trade; and, backing away from any kind of Canada Summer Jobs values attestation.
Just because these ideas become party policy does not mean Scheer has to include them in the 2019 platform. Though if he does, it has the potential to eventually become government policy.
Click here for a full rundown of some of the 76 policy resolutions Conservative Party of Canada members will be voting on, and a procedure explainer.
Constitutional changes considered
In addition to deliberating on party policy, delegates will also be dealing with a host of proposed amendments to the Conservative Party’s constitution.
Among them, there’s a call to allow Electoral District Association (EDA) boards of directors to live outside of the riding. The rationale for this proposal, according to the sponsoring Vancouver Centre EDA, is "unproductive" people being acclaimed.
The Carleton EDA had wanted to stop the National Council -- a compilation of non-parliamentarian representatives from across Canada, including the leader -- from requiring EDAs to transfer portions of their election expense reimbursements back to the Conservative Party. However, just before the convention kicked off, that proposal was scrapped from the list and will no longer be considered at the convention.
There is also a proposal to allow the interim policies of the party to be determined by the parliamentary caucus and the leader between national conventions. Another one suggests that the total number of direct fundraising pitches that the party can send to its members by mail, email, or telephone not exceed 24 in one year.
Electorally speaking, there are a few different proposals seeking to change the leadership election process, including having an independent auditor appointed to conduct the ballot process from start to finish.
The Mississauga Erin Mills EDA is sponsoring a proposed amendment that would block outsiders from running for the party in federal ridings. In order to be declared a candidate, a person would need to be a member for a year and have a "clear record of party activism," to "discourage opportunists who are not committed to Conservative principles from suddenly appearing in the nomination process."
At the convention, the party will also be deciding on the final roster of members of the National Council.
In most regions the candidates will be acclaimed, but in Ontario there are eight contenders vying for four positions, and five people in Quebec jockeying for three spots. This election is happening on the final day of the convention.
Try to regain Atlantic turf
The Conservatives currently don’t hold any of Atlantic Canada’s 32 seats, thanks to a Liberal wave that hit in 2015. Prior to the last election the Tories held 14 of those seats.
That in mind, the party deliberately chose Halifax as the location for this convention, making it the first time the gathering has been held east of Quebec.
As The Canadian Press has reported, Scheer is vowing to upset the Liberal hold on the region, promising to win back seats in 2019. He made the comments at the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party's annual general meeting, where he encouraged supporters to build up their teams in time for the campaign.
Despite not having any nearby MPs, the party has had help on the ground making sure things are good to go for when the party faithful descend, including from Conservative senators from the East Coast, and former Conservative MP Scott Armstrong who has been working with the party regarding Atlantic matters.
"Just because we don’t hold a seat, doesn’t mean we don’t have Conservatives there," Hann said.