Social conservatives are pushing to check Poilievre’s power – National


A social conservative group is making a push to check Pierre Poilievre’s power as the Conservative party gathers in Québec City this weekend.

The Conservatives are riding high in national polling and head into this weekend’s policy convention — the party’s first in-person convention since 2018 — with a sense of cautious optimism after eight years on the opposition benches.

But it wouldn’t be a Conservative gathering without some good old fashioned intra-party power struggles.

Alissa Golob, the executive director of anti-abortion group Right Now, said her organization is pushing for more transparency around party nominations and more power resting with local riding associations — rather than Poilievre and his team in Ottawa.

The group’s goal is to nominate and elect more anti-abortion politicians to the House of Commons, with an aim of passing legislation to restrict abortion access in Canada.

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Unlike previous conventions, however, Golob said social conservatives are focusing their attention less on policy debates and more on the power dynamics between the party “establishment” and local volunteers. Right Now issued a guide for their members on what party rule changes the organization supports, and which they recommend voting down.

“This convention we’re focused more on transparency with specifically the nomination process … and giving more power to the (electoral district associations) and less to the establishment, basically, especially when it comes to candidate selection,” Golob told Global News in an interview.

It’s a change in tactics for social conservative groups, which have significant organizational capacity within the larger Conservative movement and have played key roles in the party’s recent leadership contests.

And Golob said it’s directly related to the recent messy nomination battle in the Ontario riding of Oxford, where Poilievre’s perceived preferred candidate — Arpan Khanna — prevailed and a social conservative candidate was disqualified by party brass.

David McKenzie, the former Conservative MP for the riding whose daughter also ran for the nomination, said the contest “divided” the community and backed Khanna’s Liberal challenger.

Khanna ended up winning the byelection in Oxford in June, although by a narrow margin for what is considered a traditionally safe seat for the Conservatives.

Poilievre will head into the Québec City convention with the Conservative party squarely behind him after his decisive first-ballot leadership victory last September — especially when compared to his predecessor, Erin O’Toole, whose flip-flop on carbon pricing led to organized resistance from with his own caucus.

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The party’s 2018 convention opened with Maxime Bernier, who very narrowly lost the party’s 2017 leadership to Andrew Scheer, quitting the Conservatives to form the People’s Party of Canada.

Poilievre does not face anywhere near that level of criticism — either publicly or privately — from within the Conservative ranks.

“The grassroots of the Conservative movement are as excited and positive and united as they’ve ever been … And now why are they excited? Well, for the first time in a while, we have an authentic conservative leader who’s acting and behaving like a conservative, which appeals to grassroots members,” said Reagan Watts, a former Conservative aide, in an interview with Global News.

“We’ve had a change in leadership across the party apparatus, which has brought back a professional political operation which is paying dividends, as we’ve seen in fundraising, record numbers, and performances in by-elections which have been very strong.”

While issues around abortion access are not part of the policy debate at this convention, Conservative delegates are expected to debate other “social” policies — including restricting gender-affirming care for children.

A policy proposal would prohibit “life altering medicinal or surgical interventions” for minors experiencing gender “confusion or dysphoria.” The proposal is up for debate after the conservative government in Saskatchewan announced they would force gender diverse students to use their birth names at school – a policy that is now facing a legal challenge.

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The Progressive Conservative government in New Brunswick has also put in place new rules requiring children to obtain parental consent before changing their preferred name or pronouns — a policy the province’s child and youth advocate argued violates Charter rights.

Asked about a different policy resolution on Wednesday, Poilievre said he would not pronounce on individual resolutions before they’re debated at the convention.

“I’d rather let the members review the motions and propose what policy they want me to consider. And when they do, I’ll consider it,” Poilievre told reporters.

“Leaders are never bound by convention resolutions. But we do take them into consideration.”

Poilievre is scheduled to address the Conservative faithful Friday evening.

— with files from David Akin.

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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