Conservatives gather in Calgary to talk policy

Tight schedules and lots to discuss at convention

The Conservatives are coming — though that’s hardly a spooky scenario for Calgary. An estimated 3000 federal Conservative Party delegates are in town for the party’s national policy convention.

The Tory jamboree is held every few years so members can get together to discuss party policies and potential election platforms and tend to organizational housekeeping matters.

Calgary Centre MP Joan Crockatt says it’s an event the public should pay attention to as the governing party’s policies are born at these events.

“It’s kind of an intensive crash course in politics for some people. I really think it’s important to try to get as many people as you can out to the convention…. To me that’s how you keep democracy healthy is you keep the public engaged. This is the place to do it” Crockatt says.

Getting in isn’t easy though. Attendees must either be delegates elected by their riding’s Conservative Party association or get accredited to come as non-voting observers. Either way you’ll be paying between $895 (for party members) or $1050 (for non-members) to join the convention.

However once you are in the door (this year at the BMO Centre) Crockatt says you’ll have a chance to see how party policy is formed at the grassroots.

“The MPs play more of a back-seat role and spend a lot of the time listening” she explains. “They get a chance to see what the membership is saying and kind of see where the government is taking direction from the membership.”

Calgary Centre-North MP Michelle Rempel who has helped organize past conventions as a co-chair of the Conservative Party’s national policy development committee agrees.

“One of the positives about getting involved with a political party is that you have a say in policy development that goes right up to the government” Rempel says. “Many of our members’ ideas have been put into legislation.”

Between October 31 and November 2 delegates will be debating 199 policy suggestions submitted by party associations across the country. Rempel and Crockatt are both keen to hear the discussion on a potential charter of victims’ rights which Crockatt says could become part of the Conservative government’s Safe Streets and Communities legislation package.

Victims are already entitled under federal law to file victim impact statements and know the name offence length of sentence and parole hearing dates of the relevant offender but not necessarily to know when an offender is released the conditions of release or whether the offender will be travelling or living near the victim.

As it stands the suggested charter would expand current protection afforded to victims of crime and be “legislation based notably on the rights of victims to restitution access to information representation and safety.”

Rempel expects that one to “spark a good debate” but says there are many meaty proposals on the table this weekend. Members will debate the merits of supporting fewer tax brackets outlawing mandatory union dues from funding political causes increasing Canada’s military presence in the Arctic creating a “single-window” system to review scientific applications to the government and create a wholly traceable food system among other ideas.

However in a three-day convention with the brunt of the work being conducted on November 1 and much of the rest of the time reserved for ceremony Rempel admits there might not be enough time to debate everything fully.

University of Calgary political science professor Barry Cooper says the schedule is even tighter than that because most party members will be anxious to know what’s going to happen with the Senate scandal currently playing out in Ottawa.

He says that Harper’s government has done much of what it promised its core supporters prior to winning office but “all of that is put into question because of the dysfunctional nature of the Senate and particularly some of [Harper’s] appointees.”

“They’re going to have to deal with [the Senate scandal] because a lot of people are very upset with what’s been going on in Ottawa” Cooper says. “That’s not what he or the Conservative Party wanted to do at this convention… [and] that will probably push a lot of the policy questions off the agenda. This is a major crisis for the organization of the party.”

Crockatt confirms some time will probably be eaten up with the Senate issue but anticipates Harper will continue to promote removing senators Mike Duffy Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau from office which will satisfy party members and allow them to get down to the business for which they’re in Calgary.

She says the time should be used as an “opportunity to get together with the membership… and have some serious discussions about policy. I mean that’s the kind of thing that politicos live for is a chance to get down into the issues.”