John-Henry Westen


Social Conservatives Gain Some Ground in Conservative Party at Founding Convention

John-Henry Westen

MONTREAL, March 21, 2005 ( - Hundreds of pro-life and pro-family Canadians taking part in the Conservative National Convention over the weekend came away encouraged. The disappointments for social conservatives were highlighted by the media and centred on Stephen Harper’s speech and the muzzling of debate on the issue of abortion. However, the new Conservative policy supporting traditional marriage and several additional pro-family policies were heartening.

Campaign Life Coalition, with the support of REAL Women Canada and Enshrine Marriage Canada worked an effective strategy to get pro-life and pro-familyÂdelegates elected and to coordinate strategy at the Convention.

Despite Conservative ‘star’ Belinda Stronach’s vocal support for gay ‘marriage’ at the convention, a resolution to maintain the traditional definition of marriage passed with nearly 75% support. Official Conservative policy on the issue now reads:“A Conservative Government will support legislation defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

Thanks largely to the lobbying efforts of Campaign Life Quebec, the support for traditional marriage passed with a 53.9% majority of delegates from Quebec.

The most distressing part of the Convention was the passage of a policy resolution which killed debate on the proposed resolution on partial birth abortion. The resolution reading “A Conservative government will not support any legislation to regulate abortion” passed narrowly with 54.6% in favour and 45.4% opposed. Several delegates who spoke to expressed the concern that Harper’s impassioned speech the previous day may have affected the final vote on the measure.

The day before the vote on the abortion resolution, Harper said during his speech, “as prime minister, I will not bring forth legislation on the issue of abortion.” Of note, Harper’s response from the gathered delegates to his abortion statement was much muted compared to his statements in favour of traditional marriage which received a standing ovation. Campaign Life Coalition BC President John Hof told “Even after such an impassioned plea from Harper, 45% of the delegates still defied his direction and stated that they were mature enough to have an open debate on abortion.”

Mary Ellen Douglas, National Coordinator of Campaign Life Coalition told “The numbers suggest we need to do a little more work to open the party to discussing abortion. She added, “Besides, those decisions are made in parliament and, at least in this party, even cabinet ministers are free to vote their consciences on moral issues.”

Entrenching one significant difference from the Liberals into Conservative party policy, the Conservative party supported a resolution to “restore democratic accountability in the House of Commons by allowing free votes”, specifically allowing them on issues such as “abortion, the definition of marriage and euthanasia.” Of note, Party Leader Stephen Harper was emphatic in supporting free votes for “all members”, cabinet included, during his speech before the convention.

In Ontario, two strong social conservative delegates, Kara Johnson and Lois Brown, were elected to the Party’s National Council.

Other positive developments at the Convention included:
  - adoption of a policy to eliminate defences used to justify child pornography and raise the age of consent from 14 to 16
  - adoption of a policy to eliminate tax disadvantages for families who have one parent stay at home to raise children by introducing measures such as income splitting
  - adoption of a policy to provide financial support for parents who stay at home with preschool children
  - Finally, “small-town Mennonite plumber” Don Plett won the Party Presidency defeating Brian Mitchell “a gay, bilingual Montreal corporate lawyer” (descriptions by Vancouver Sun)

See related coverage:
  Conservative Leader Harper Talks Abortion and Gay Marriage in Convention Speech

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