Conservative delegates defeat anti-abortion resolution, endorse moving Canadian Embassy to Jerusalem

A slim majority of Conservative convention delegates voted Saturday against a resolution backed by anti-abortion campaigners while at the same time affirming the party's opposition to using Canadian foreign aid to fund abortion services abroad — a mixed bag result for social conservatives.

Policies are proposed by riding associations across the country in an effort to give grassroots members a say

Delegates vote on party constitution items at the Conservative Party of Canada's national policy convention in Halifax on Friday. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

A slim majority of Conservative convention delegates voted Saturday against a resolution backed by anti-abortion campaigners while at the same time affirming the party's opposition to using Canadian foreign aid to fund abortion services abroad — a mixed bag result for social conservatives.

Other controversial resolutions, including a push to limit citizenship rights for those born in this country to non-Canadian parents and an endorsement of moving Canada's embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, received overwhelming support.

The abortion resolution, No. 65, would have struck from the party's policy book a pledge that a Conservative government would not support any legislation to regulate abortion, something added under former prime minister Stephen Harper to reassure some Canadians that the Conservative Party did not have a "hidden agenda" to legislate an abortion ban.

If the resolution had passed, an elected Conservative government would have been free to introduce anti-abortion legislation.

Some delegates said they were pro-choice but still supported stripping this policy from the Conservative playbook because they said the party should be entirely neutral on the issue, like they agreed to be on same-sex marriage at the party's last convention in Vancouver when they over turned a gay marriage prohibition.

The abortion resolution failed by a vote of 53 to 47 per cent.

The social conservative wing of the party holds a lot of sway; Andrew Scheer, who has identified with this branch in the past, likely wouldn't be leader without them, and they represent a not-insignificant number of the party's total membership.

They are also known in party circles as well-organized, devoted convention-goers who rarely miss a chance to put their ideas front and centre.

And so, while facing defeat on the larger abortion resolution, they claimed victory on another policy proposal which would enshrine in the party's policy book a pledge to oppose abortion funding in Canada's foreign aid.

Delegates also adopted a proposal to reverse the current Liberal government's demand that would-be employers of summer students sign an attestation form affirming their support for Charter rights — which has been interpreted to include access to abortion — before they can qualify for federal funds to help cover wages.

"The Conservative Party believes that it is unethical and wrong to require applicants for government-funded programs to sign a values test attestation endorsing government ideology in order to be eligible to receive government funding," the successful resolution states.

The party also endorsed restrictions on euthanasia, or medically assisted dying, for young people and "people who are not competent," further affirming that the Conservative party does not support any legislation that legalizes euthanasia or assisted suicide.

In another close vote on social policy, Conservative delegates voted down an attempt by the Thunder Bay-Rainy River riding association to declare pornography a "public health risk."

Fifty-three per cent of delegates in the room voted rejected that the government develop "laws, policies and programs to prevent pornography exposure and addiction."

Policy resolutions not binding

Scheer promised members a clear alternative to Justin Trudeau's Liberals in an address to delegates Friday night, saying Canadians are finally starting to see the prime minister's "true colours … the tax-hiking, rule-breaking, perk-loving, deficit-spending, debt-mounting, virtue-signalling Liberals Canadians have come to know and despise."

Delegates narrowed down a long list of policies Friday and the short list was put to a vote by the larger convention Saturday.

Policies are proposed by riding associations from across the country in an effort to give grassroots members a say over the party's agenda. Scheer is under no obligation to put the policies agreed to by members in his election platform.

Notably, a resolution calling for the Conservative Party to disavow its support for supply management in some farm sectors did not make it on the list for a vote Saturday, angering some delegates who believe the party's current stance is anti-capitalistic.

A number of delegates who backed the resolution told CBC News they might be inclined to support Maxime Bernier's yet-unnamed party after seeing their favoured resolution shut out. (The plenary session dealing with this resolution ended before delegates could decide whether it should become party policy.)

Bernier, who announced he was quitting the Conservatives on Thursday, has long preached against supply management, which allows specific commodity sectors — dairy, poultry and eggs — to limit the supply of their products to what Canadians are expected to consume in order to ensure predictable, stable prices.

As if to further jab his finger in Scheer's eye, Bernier sent a tweet encouraging those disgruntled delegates to join him as he looks to start a new party ahead of the 2019 federal election.

Here are a few other policy resolutions the Conservatives debated Saturday:

Following the lead of U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, Conservative Party members voted overwhelmingly to compel the next Conservative government to move the Canadian Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The decision is controversial because a number of international observers have suggested such a move would stymie peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, both of which claim the holy city as its capital. Others have said Canada should stand staunchly behind its closest ally in the Middle East.

Dealing with asylum seekers

Scheer and the party's immigration critic, Michelle Rempel, have been scathing in their criticism of the Liberals' handling of the recent influx of asylum seekers — branding the uptick in claimants a "crisis" that is costing provincial coffers millions.

Rempel has repeatedly proposed extending the existing Safe Third Country Agreement that Canada has with the United States to cover the entire Canada-U.S. border by declaring all of it an official port of entry. This, she believes, would help stop would-be refugees from entering the country through irregular points of entry.

To that end, the Conservative Party voted overwhelmingly to "stop all illegal entries in Canada."

Party members called for the next Conservative government to "take steps to renegotiate the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S. to close the gaps relating to illegal entries in Canada," reads the successful resolution, which was originally proposed by the Quebec riding of ​Charlesbourg–Haute-Saint-Charles.

And, in a controversial move, delegates backed a resolution that would end "birthright citizenship," in an effort to stop "passport babies."

Boosting the economy

In addition to tackling social and identity issues, a number of economic proposals passed the party's convention Saturday.

A successful resolution from the riding association in Fredericton now makes it official party policy to back an west-east pipeline like the now-defunct Energy East project, which would have carried one million barrels of oil a day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick.

(TransCanada, the pipeline's proponent, pulled out of the project in 2017, citing a change in market conditions and new requirements from the National Energy Board.)

"The very essence of economic development, nation building, and regional development is the free flow of resources. The Conservative Party supports the development of the Energy East Pipeline as a means of creating Canadian jobs and reducing our dependence on foreign oil," the resolution states.

Another successful policy proposal calls for income tax forms to be simplified, while another affirms the party's opposition to a federal price on carbon.

"We believe that there should be no federally imposed carbon taxes or cap-and-trade systems on either the provinces or on the citizens of Canada. The provinces and territories should be free to develop their own climate change policies, without federal interference or federal penalties or incentives," that resolution reads.

About the Author

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

John Paul (J.P.) Tasker is a reporter in the CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.