Last week, the Conservative Party of Canada held its bi-annual policy convention. Due to COVID-19 gathering restrictions, this convention was held virtually, enabling a record number of delegates to attend this year.
Conventions are opportunities for members of political parties to come together, build the party, and prepare for the next election. At this virtual convention, delegates participated in campaign training, watched Conservative leader Erin O’Toole outline the party’s post-COVID-19 recovery plan, voted for national councillors (who help run and direct the party), voted on changes to the party constitution, and, perhaps most importantly, voted on amendments to the party’s policy handbook. This policy handbook describes the party’s official position on a wide variety of issues, although party leaders cherry-pick policies from the handbook (and elsewhere) for election campaigns.
Many pro-life, socially conservative, and/or Christian groups had high hopes that this convention would provide an opportunity to steer the Conservative party in a direction more in line with their views. Did it?
Here are the six most notable policies from the 2021 Conservative convention.
Local riding associations, called Electoral District Associations, or EDAs, sponsor policy proposals in preparation for the convention. Because hundreds of policies are proposed but only a select number (thirty this year) are debated at the convention, EDAs vote in advance on which proposed policies will go to the convention. A couple of policies addressing abortion were proposed, but none garnered enough votes from EDAs to advance to the general convention.
There is an alternative way for proposals to be debated at the convention. If delegates from 100 ridings propose an amendment “from the floor,” it normally will be debated like all the other proposals. Campaign Life Coalition gathered the required 100 signatures to bring a proposal on abortion to the convention. However, because the virtual format required the convention to operate differently than in past years, and because this alternative method of raising amendments applied only to constitutional amendments (not policy amendments), no proposal touching upon abortion was considered at the convention.
Prior to this convention, the Conservative party had a policy on euthanasia that read, “The Conservative Party will not support any legislation to legalize euthanasia or assisted suicide. The Conservative Party of Canada opposes the extension of euthanasia and assisted suicide (MAID) to minors, to people who are not competent, and people who live with psychological suffering.”
Due to the passage of Bill C-14 (medical assistance in dying) in 2016 and the imminent passage of Bill C-7 (medical assistance in dying), this policy was slightly out of date. The convention delegates voted – 75% for and 25% against – to update the policy on euthanasia to read, “In principle, the Conservative Party opposes euthanasia and assisted suicide. Furthermore, we oppose the extension of euthanasia and assisted suicide (MAID) to minors, to people who are not competent, and people who live with psychological suffering.” This rewording does not substantially change the Conservative party’s stance on euthanasia.
#3 Joint tax filing
The government currently taxes individual incomes, regardless of whether individuals are members of larger families, or whether one or both spouses earn income. This effectively penalizes families in which one spouse is the sole breadwinner in a family as that spouse’s income is taxed at a higher rate than if this income could be split or distributed with their spouse. The previous Conservative government had allowed income-splitting, but the Liberal government revoked this tax policy.
Although the Conservative policy handbook still supports the income-splitting policy, a new modification arose at this convention. This proposal would “permit spouses to electively report income on a joint or household basis so that progressive rates apply to income of families, rather than individuals, as the taxing unit.” Although income-splitting gave significant tax relief to families with one employed spouse and one stay-at-home spouse, it still focuses on individuals for taxation purposes. This policy proposed to fundamentally shift away from individuals as the basic unit of taxation and toward the family as the basic unit of taxation. Although the wording is ambiguous, this policy would potentially allow income not only to be split between spouses but also between children or grandparents in the same family.
Because of this ambiguity (and other reasons), the Conservative caucus (the Conservative MPs collectively) reluctantly urged delegates to vote against this modification. The convention delegates, however, passed it by an overwhelming margin (89% for and 11% against).
Many charities and non-profit organizations have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions. Not only have many seen their donations drop, but few were prioritized for re-opening as essential services. In response to this, one policy proposal was that “The Conservative Party recognizes that Canadian charities provide essential services to our communities and that they are well-equipped to enhance the well-being of our communities. As such, we believe that charitable donations should not receive any less favorable treatment than political donations.”
The thrust of this proposal is strongly supportive of charities (including churches), even though the policy proposal does not explain how this would actually work. Political contributions (at the federal level) are capped at $1275, but the tax credit ranges from 33%-75% of the contribution, depending on the size of the contribution. Charitable contributions (at the federal) are capped at 75% of your net income, but the tax credit only ranges from 15-33%. Despite the ambiguity of how this policy proposal would work in terms of the cap on donations or the size of the tax credit, it passed with 82% approval from delegates.
#5 Free speech on Canadian campuses
Over the past decade, concerns have been growing that the freedom of speech and expression have been curtailed on university campuses, particularly for pro-life clubs. A policy that would revoke federal funding to Canadian universities that limit freedom of expression was passed by 88% of delegates at the Conservative convention.
#6 Hate speech
In 2014, Parliament removed Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act which prohibited hate speech in Canada. ARPA had supported this deletion of Canada’s federal hate speech law because it infringed on legitimate free speech and because it was unfairly used to target Christian speech. Although this federal hate speech provision no longer exists, the Conservative’s policy handbook stated that “we support legislation to remove authority from the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to regulate, receive, investigate or adjudicate complaints related to section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.” One policy proposal – likely proposed as a housekeeping measure – was to delete this policy, but it was narrowly rejected (50.6% opposed and 49.4% in favour). This leaves a redundancy in the Conservative party’s policy handbook, but underlines the party’s continuing opposition to federal hate speech codes.
This Conservative convention gave thousands of Canadians the opportunity to shape the future of this federal political party, and other federal parties are preparing for (virtual) conventions as well. The Christian Heritage Party is hosting a virtual conference on March 27th. The Liberal party is convening on April 9-10 and the New Democratic Party is convening on April 9-11. (Neither the Green Party nor the People’s Party have scheduled conventions to date.)
Although ARPA is non-partisan, we always encourage individual Christians to be partisan. Being a member of a political party gives you an amplified voice in crafting the policies of the party and nominating Christians within that party. Join whatever political party best represents your values and get involved.