Conservative policies could steer Ottawa on a range of issues, from sex-selective abortion to gun rights
Gathering in Calgary, Conservative delegates passed a series of motions aimed at carrying the party through the next election.
The policies were accepted or spiked on Saturday, the final of three days that the country's major players met in Calgary. The policies tackled a range of subjects, and could – or could not – ultimately steer the Conservative government. Here's a look at what passed – and one that didn't.
1. Sex-selective abortion
In a motion by the riding association of pro-life B.C. MP Mark Warawa, delegates agreed to support a motion to condemn sex-selective abortion. The motion read: "The Conservative Party condemns discrimination against girls through gender selection."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly said his government won't reopen the abortion debate, and Mr. Warawa said flatly "no" when asked if the motion did. "I'm very pleased that the Conservative Party of Canada has condemned the practice of sex selection, gender selection," Mr. Warawa said, adding: "Everyone should condemn the terrible practice of saying that girls aren't as valuable as boys. And that's repulsive and it should be condemned."
However, another pro-life MP, Rob Anders of Calgary West, didn't reject the notion that the move could reopen the abortion debate."I think there are a lot of social conservatives who are supporters of the party, and those people need to know that they feel the love here," he said. Pressed again on whether it reopens the abortion debate, he replied: "I've given you a statement. You can do with it what you want."
2. Gun rights
One of the most closely fought motions, it would have called gun ownership a "right" of Canadians, except when the right is "removed through due process of law on an individual basis." It did not pass, narrowly defeated 500 to 477.
The session co-chairs had to limit debate on the subject – in one case declining a request from MP Shelly Glover, who asked to speak against the motion.
Another motion on guns did pass, but was more mildly worded. It simply affirmed "the legitimacy of private ownership of firearms" and called on the government to "resist any domestic or international pressure to the contrary."
This motion overhauled party policy when it comes to prostitution, and passed. Under the new wording, the party "rejects the concept of legalizing the purchase of sex" and "declares that human beings are not objects to be enslaved, bought or sold."
It signals a focus on people who buy sex – johns – and those smuggling sex workers abroad, rather than the sex workers themselves.
The motion calls on government to strike up a "specific plan to target the purchasers of sex and human trafficking markets through criminalizing the purchase of sex as well as the acts of any third party attempting to profit from the purchase of sex."
The motion was brought by the Manitoba Conservative association in Kildonan-St. Paul, a seat held by Conservative MP Joy Smith, who's a frequent advocate on issues of human trafficking.
4. Churches' rights
The party threw its weight behind a faith group's right to refuse use of its facilities to people or groups not in line with its beliefs. For instance, a church opposed to gay marriage could refuse to rent its facilities to a gay couple.
Under the wording of the passed motion, the party "supports the rights of faith based organizations to refuse the use of their facilities to individuals or groups holding views which are contrary to [its] beliefs or standards," without "fear of sanctions or harassment." The motion also calls on faith-based beliefs to never be considered discrimination under human-rights laws.
In arguing for the motion, one delegate said it was a matter of freedom for churches and other facilities to choose how to use their own facilities.
In one of many labour motions passed on Saturday, the party called for public-sector pensions to be shifted to a defined contribution model, which gives employees retirement funding over the course of employment, rather than defined benefit plans, which pay a certain amount after retirement.
Another called on government to bring public sector benefits and pensions in line with the private sector. Treasury Board President Tony Clement backed the notion, saying he hopes to redefine labour negotiations in Canada.
As delegates voted, union members protested across the street.
6. Aboriginal affairs
One motion that passed added "economic sustainability" to the party's aboriginal affairs principles. In particular, the motion says the party "supports provisions for property ownership and women's equality on reserves."
In arguing for the motion, one delegate said reserves are too often plagued by poor economies, and that property rights would help spur economic growth.
This one was simple, but not unanimous.
The motion says the party "will not support any legislation to legalize euthanasia or assisted suicide."
That spurred ample debate among delegates, with one urging delegates to "vote for care, not killing" and another saying it was difficult to know what the terminally ill, suffering in pain, would think. Saskatchewan MP David Anderson was among those to speak in favour of the motion.
Ultimately, it passed 615 to 502, with delegations from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island backing the motion.
This policy saw the party declare support for requiring all federal departments, agencies and federally regulated corporations to guarantee the job of an employee who leaves to complete reservist duty.
The motion also called on government to work with provincial and private sector counterparts to achieve the same goal, though not require them to. It passed 709-355.
9. Victim's Charter
The government has already committed to this, including it in the Throne Speech last month. The party caught up, passing a motion calling for the adoption of a "Charter of rights for victims of criminals' acts." It passed easily.
10. Northern development
In one motion, the party voted to back "strategic investments in the Far North and the Territories, especially in communications and defence infrastructure and transportation, including new highways." It was passed Saturday, one day after the Prime Minister's speech reiterated the government's plan to complete the Dempster Highway.
In another motion, the party agreed to call for building of basic docking facilities in communities across the North.
11. Foreign qualifications
This appears to be a call to both tweak immigration rules and fast-track the acceptance of foreign credentials. In a motion brought from the Calgary Northeast riding – an area home to many first and second-generation Canadians – the party welcomed "Canadians with foreign qualifications" as well as "immigrants," which was already included in its party's policy wording.
In other sections, it replaced the word "immigrants" with "foreign qualified individuals," and added a clause urging the government to "work with recognized professional bodies to pre-qualify internationally trained individuals for certain occupations as part of the immigration process." It also called on government to make the immigration system more flexible. It passed easily.
12. Overhaul the CBC
Though party policy calls the public broadcaster "an important part of the broadcasting system in Canada," it notes private competitors "must be able to compete in an ever-increasing fragmented and global market."
And so the motion called for the CBC to be reorganized, saying "control and operations of the CBC could be best accomplished through establishing distinct budgets for the operations of the TV and radio Broadcast function." It passed narrowly, 596-504.
Another CBC-related motion calling for the "elimination of all public funding of the corporation which creates unfair competitive advantage with privately owned and operated networks and stations” did not pass. (An earlier version of this story incorrectly said it had.)
13. The right to sell fish
A Manitoba riding association put forward a motion to repeal the Freshwater Fish Marketing Act, ending its monopoly, and instead give anglers "the freedom to make their own individual marketing decisions and to direct, structure and voluntarily participate in producer organizations."
It passed nearly unanimously, despite one opponent pleading it had "nothing to do with the Wheat Board," which the Conservatives had already dismantled.
The party motion calls for an "effective and efficient penal system" with "cost controls." It calls for "income earning opportunities" for inmates as a way to "reduce the burden on the taxpayer," raising the notion of increased work programs behind bars. "This will also provide job-ready skills, training and work experience for the inmates upon release," the policy says. It passed.
In another motion that was accepted, the party affirmed its support for using consecutive, rather than concurrent, sentences for people convicted of "serious" crimes. It means multiple sentences couldn't be served at the same time.
At a time when the federal government is pushing for pipeline projects within Canada and abroad, the party decided to weigh in. Delegates voted to support a motion that stated pipelines "provide effective and efficient transportation of fossil fuels" and that Canada needed an "efficient pipeline network."
It also emphasized that spills are the responsibility of the pipeline company, not the public or the property owner whose land the pipe crosses. "They are our base and they are concerned," one advocate said of landowners.
This passed, despite a delegate asking about an apparent error that called on government to "insure" Canada's pipeline system is efficient, rather than "ensure." The delegate suggested the policy might inadvertently be calling for a large-scale insurance policy.