2016 Conservative convention: How should we describe Tories now?

Seven months after losing the federal election and without a clear heir apparent to Stephen Harper, the vibes at the Conservative convention in Vancouver weren't as negative as you might think.

7 months after losing federal election, party delegates more determined than depressed

Conservative MPs and national council members dance during the closing ceremonies of the party's policy convention in Vancouver on Saturday. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

If you had to pick between the two policy conventions last weekend, you may have assumed the more celebratory affair would have been in Winnipeg, given the Liberals won the federal election seven months ago. 

But Vancouver's Conservative gathering in Vancouver was also a party. No longer burdened with the responsibility of governing, Conservatives seemed more carefree.

They're a year away from deciding on a new leader. They're three years away from needing a new election platform and campaign team. They can exhale.

Here are 10 words that can describe the Tories, who wrapped up their convention Saturday:


The roots of the Reform Party were profoundly democratic. And earnestly so, to an impractical fault.

But in government, the merged party Harper led was criticized as undemocratic, heavy-handed and authoritarian.

This convention was, as one former Reform Party strategist put it, a return to "how we used to be." 

Contentious matters came forward. People spoke passionately. But then the vote was called, the result respected and people moved on.


Journalists were welcome at this convention. That's not to say some skepticism didn't linger.  

"You hate us, don't you?" one delegate asked at a hospitality suite after a couple of drinks. Assured that wasn't the case, he seemed genuinely surprised. 

That this conversation happened at all was a departure from previous years. Media were allowed at not only official convention events, but also informal venues — where the real political persuasion happens.

Delegates could make their own buttons at the convention. Anti-Trudeau slogans seemed to be popular. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Policy-wise, there were signs of open-mindedness. 

The party that mocked the Liberals for having soft, tolerant attitudes about pot turned around and had a reasonable debate on a proposal to allow peace officers to ticket, rather than criminally arrest, individuals found in possession of small quantities of marijuana. 

Ex-police chief and cabinet minister Julian Fantino asked delegates to endorse it. And they did. 


Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu's 'Tory Talk' segment opened with her taking on the character of the grim reaper, intoning 'doom and gloom' for the party. By the end, she was dancing to Taylor Swift. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

On Friday afternoon, the party's executive director held a session to discuss what went wrong in the party's unsuccessful re-election bid. Reports from the room suggest this party isn't deluding itself about how it fell short.

Party stalwart and now-retired senator Marjory LeBreton — who puts a positive, defensive spin on nearly everything — was blunt about the dysfunctional disconnect between candidates, the leader and the war room. She said a hard-hitting account of its failures was necessary.

This convention had dissent. But the overall tone seemed constructive.


Delegate after delegate, MP after MP, leadership contender after leadership contender ... all said the same thing: "It's too soon."

Peter MacKay found plenty of people who wanted to shake his hand and take his picture. Will he run? He isn't saying. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Leadership wannabes were on display. Tires were kicked and mostly soft questions asked.

But aside from the three MPs who saw strategic benefit to jumping into the leadership race early — Maxime Bernier, Michael Chong and Kellie Leitch — most kept their future intentions mum.

The May 27, 2017, election will feature a ranked ballot, so second and third choices will carry weight. No need to limit yourself to just one hospitality suite.


One of the arguments against voting to strike the traditional definition of marriage from the party's policy on Saturday was that it was organized by a "faction" of the party: the LGBTory group. The party shouldn't have factions, one speaker said. 

But when that "faction" carried the vote, the other side didn't storm out. MPs like Brad Trost just seemed resigned.

Conservative MP Maxime Bernier, left, hugs delegate Natalie Pon as she celebrates the vote to strike the traditional definition of marriage from the Conservative Party's official policy document. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The differences between the two original parties to the Conservative merger — the PCs and the Reformers-turned-Canadian Alliance — still surface. (Delegates again rejected a pure one-member-one-vote leadership selection process. But some keep trying.)

But it's getting harder to identify the genetic lineage of Conservatives.

Uniting was a path to power. During the next election in 2019, Harper's farewell speech reminded delegates, Canada will be looking for a strong, united party that's ready to govern. 


A proposal to create a youth wing was rejected in Vancouver. (It wasn't the first time.) 

But according to stats circulated by the party, a record number of youth delegates attended.  

Visually, the crowd in Vancouver didn't look grey. Many party members appeared far short of retirement age.


Who would have thought the party that lost last fall would close its convention dancing to the Pharrell Williams's song Happy?  

Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose brought her partner, J.P. Veitch, on stage in a lighter moment from her keynote speech to delegates Friday. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Although stage-managed entertainment can feel forced, delegates seemed genuinely upbeat. Happy-ish, at least.

"We needed this," Lisa Raitt said about some of the organized rah-rah. 


As one observer snarked on Twitter, the "WTF is strong at #cpc16."

Chinese dragons danced to the K-pop classic Gangnam Style.

At the Tory Talks session — a main stage event billed as a TED Talks-style chance for Tories to make a two-minute pitch for a radical idea — serious innovation gave way to silly.

A young Alberta MP imagined leadership debates as rap battles.

MP Marilyn Gladu came out dressed as the grim reaper, then threw off her costume and encouraged delegates to "shake it off" and dance with her to Taylor Swift. 

Some made fun. But when recovering from defeat, being able to poke fun and have fun isn't a bad thing. 


"Freedom" turned out to be more than Maxime Bernier's campaign pitch. Delegates spoke their minds. 

Stephen Harper's farewell address was a bit like an Oscars acceptance speech, thanking the many people who supported his accomplishments as leader. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

"The past is no place to linger," Harper told delegates.

And he won't linger. His future influence will be limited to the board of the Conservative Fund.

One former staffer watching on television said Harper's speech gave the convention what party members needed to hear in order to move on.


Conservatives didn't run from what they did in office and kept talking about how strong they remain in opposition.

Some votes reinforced old platform planks, like income splitting for families. (The first Liberal budget cancelled that.) 

The vote in favour of no longer defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman was a reversal. But other votes weren't.

This party supports conscience rights for medical practitioners, opposes sex-selection abortions and now enshrines a belief in the "value and dignity of all human life" in its constitution.

It also did not strike its opposition to medically assisted dying. That parliamentary battle resumes this week.

About the Author

Janyce McGregor

Parliamentary Bureau

Janyce McGregor has covered Canadian politics for CBC News since 2001. Send news tips to: Janyce.McGregor@cbc.ca


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