Tories reject leadership vote rule changes

Conservative delegates rejected a motion on Saturday that proposed changes to how the party chooses its leaders after a challenge from the floor and a debate between party stalwarts.

Party tweaks same-sex marriage policy at convention

Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes part in the conclusion of the Conservative Party convention in Ottawa on Saturday. Delegates decided on a number of policy resolutions, some quite divisive. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Conservative delegates rejected a motion on Saturday that proposed changes to how the party chooses its leaders after a challenge from the floor and a debate between party stalwarts.

Supporters of the current points system mounted a successful challenge to hearing the resolution at the party's Ottawa convention, despite the "balanced leadership" proposal's author MP Scott Reid collecting the required 100 signatures from 100 ridings.

The proposal pitted Reid and other high-profile Conservatives such as Jason Kenney against Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who negotiated the current rule of equality of ridings when he helped create the Conservative Party.

The delegates also voted down a motion to enshrine riding equality into the party's constitution, meaning it's possible the "one member, one vote" battle will be back at the next convention two years from now.

In a separate vote Saturday, the final day of the three-day convention, delegates passed a resolution saying the party supports the freedom of religious organizations to refuse to perform same-sex marriages or allow the use of their facilities for events incompatible with their faith and beliefs.

The resolution changed the wording of an existing party policy on gay marriage, which said the Conservative "government" supported legislation saying marriage is between one man and one woman, with delegates voting to change it to say the Conservative Party supports the move.

The resolutions set party policy but are not binding on the government.

Gay marriage has long been a thorn in the side of the party and an issue opposition parties have used to paint the Tories as behind the times. Canadian courts started the process of allowing gay marriage in 2003 and the Liberal government in 2005 passed a law making it legal.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper allowed a free vote on a motion whether to re-open the same-sex marriage debate in the House of Commons soon after the Conservatives took power in 2006. After the motion was defeated, Harper said he didn't want to revisit the issue.

But the ability of religious organizations to be able to say no to performing the ceremonies has been an irritant to the party's grassroots supporters.

Divisive battle over ridings

On the ridings debate, Reid said the delegates reserved the right to keep looking at the issue by defeating the motion.

"The fact that this particular version wasn't accepted by delegates today doesn't necessarily mean that there can't be a better design," he said. "And one should always leave that option open."

Resolutions defeated:

  • C-111 — to allow Conservative Fund board members to vote at conventions
  • C-104 — to keep riding associations "well-informed" of National Council decisions
  • C-128 and C-132 — to put one representative from each territory on the party's national constitution and policy commissions
  • Motion from the floor to bar MP spouses from sitting on the national council
  • Motion from the floor to enshrine riding equality in the party's constitution

Resolutions passed:

  • C-101 — to deny party membership to anyone who holds a membership in another party
  • C-108 — to replace departing National Council members with a representative from the same province or territory
  • C-125 — a housekeeping vote that moves the article on the leader nominating the party's executive director
  • To cut taxes for families providing homecare

  • To eliminate taxation on taxes

  • To end support for a cap-and-trade system to lessen greenhouse gas emissions

  • To eliminate the inclusion of parental income in calculating a student's need for a loan

  • To allow eight extra months of interest relief on student loans

  • To encourage immigrants to adapt to Canadian values and traditions

Under the current rules, every association is allocated 100 points, no matter how many members it has, which get divided depending on how the association's members vote. Reid's proposal, framed as the compromise motion, called for a 100-point base plus one point assigned for each member over 100, but with a 400-point cap.

MacKay said Friday the latest motion is technically the fourth time the party's had the discussion. Each time, he said, members have soundly defeated the idea.

"We had the discussion in the original discussion to bring the Conservative Party together, so it was rigourously debated at that time," he said, adding the party also debated it at the last two conventions in Montreal and Winnipeg.

"Now the membership have again pronounced themselves against changes to a formula that promotes equality, a formula that wins and a formula that is inclusive and doesn't marginalize any region of the country, like Quebec, Atlantic Canada, the territories or rural ridings that sometimes have difficulty between elections keeping their membership high."

In an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House, Kenney argued it's only fair for electoral district associations with more card-carrying members to have more weight than smaller associations.

"A riding member with five or 10 members gets the same weight as a riding with 5,000 members," Kenney told host Chris Hall. "There is a real lack of equity there and there is no incentive for the riding with five or 10 members to grow, to recruit, to sell new membership.

"I think there's a reasonable argument to be made for the single-member vote, a reasonable argument for equality of ridings.… Why don't we try to blend the best of both systems with a compromise? For me that's kind of self-evident."

The resolutions being considered by 2,300 delegates are to guide the creation of to party's platform, but are not binding on the government.

Delegates also passed a resolution to simplify the tax code, as well as to make anyone convicted of two offences causing death or serious harm a dangerous offender. A controversial resolution to take away citizenship from anyone who takes up arms against the Canadian Forces or their allies was defeated.

Also on justice issues, the party passed a resolution pledging it "does not support a parallel justice system which would contravene our existing rights and freedoms," and another that rejects "the normalization of prostitution." The resolution says the party will work to prevent legalizing bawdy houses, living off the avails of prostitution and communication for the purpose of prostitution.

In other votes Saturday, delegates also passed resolutions in support of ensuring veterans have the benefits and services they deserve and changing the Divorce Act to give grandparents a shot at shared parenting.

In keeping with the government's tough-on-crime talk, the party adopted a resolution to take a proactive approach to reducing human smuggling through sanctions, and to promote democracy in countries where refugees originate.

LIVE BLOG: Conservative convention Day 3