The Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) begins its National Policy Convention at Ottawa today. These are the sort gatherings in which one can find an intersection of three separate paths taken by conservatives: those who are small “c”, but do not always vote CPC or regularly update their CPC memberships; these who are CPC members and support the party right or wrong; and those who are members of the CPC’s elected caucus.
Clearly these groups have similar views of how Canada should be governed. But many small “c” conservatives believed the Liberal Party of Jean Chrétien/Paul Martin were fiscally conservative enough to satisfy them, and back then they voted Liberal in large numbers. Others see their best hopes for a conservative Canada being realized only through a government led by the CPC. And, of course, we have the CPC’s caucus.
Too often, outsiders assume the caucus represents the hopes and aspirations of the party from which it draws most of its financial support and volunteer help. Many—I used to belong to this group—believe a central purpose of national policy conventions is the development of policies, which would be used to inform the party’s election platform and the future agenda of the caucus, once in government. Not so.
To start with, official members of the party made up only a very small proportion of the nearly six million votes it took to win on May 2. Of necessity, an election platform is geared to both small “c” and small “l” voters alike. And few if any party resolutions are designed to appeal beyond the narrow confines of the party’s membership and its delegates attending the convention.
That’s a stark reality of politics: ideology gets you only so far, it’s pragmatism that wins elections. And even after a majority is won, a caucus that governs pragmatically, is one with a chance to win the next election.
The caucus, the CPC general membership and the conservative movement are all individual streams of conservative thought and objectives that converge at times, such as at national conversions, only to go their separate ways once the convention closes its doors.
The Ottawa meet-up should be more interesting than most. For one thing, it’ll provide an excellent chance for the party to celebrate its May 2 majority victory. Delegates have been waiting since November 21, 1988 for a majority win in an election, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper has given them one. That sure calls for a large “C” celebration.
I’ll also be watching what happens to those CPC policies passed at its November 2008 convention, but which the caucus passed over since then. Will we see a renewed initiative to get rid of Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act? Such a resolution passed overwhelmingly in 2008, but nary a word of legislation since. Will we ever have real and sustained progress towards arctic sovereignty, or just more lip service by caucus? And what about conservatives’ concern for fetal rights?
These are just a few of the thorny issues that separate the CPC from its caucus and from small “c” conservatives at large. It’ll be fun to watch.