Ahead of Party Convention, Social Conservatives Mobilize to Advance SoCon Policies

February 24, 2021 Updated: February 27, 2021

Social conservatives are more organized than they’ve been in decades as they mobilize to get their core issues integrated into the Conservative Party’s platform at its upcoming convention, according to a leading advocacy group for SoCon issues.

“Social conservatives are revitalized across the country. I think they’re engaged more than they have been in 30 years,” said Jack Fonseca, director of political operations for Campaign Life Coalition (CLC), a pro-life advocacy group representing around 270,000 members.

Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) members across the country are now electing delegates from every riding to vote on policy and elect a National Council, where federal decisions are made for the party. Delegates will represent members’ interests at the national policy convention, to be held virtually from March 18 to 20.

In efforts to advance policies important to them, CLC and other socially conservative groups have been organizing to have their preferred delegates selected in each riding association, by sending out lists of candidates for party members to vote for based on who will best represent socially conservative issues.

Among other organizations involved in the effort are the parental rights group Parents as First Educators (PAFE) and the National Firearms Association, which says social conservatives “are one of the largest factions in the Conservative Party’s base.”

“We’ve done a fantastic job of recruiting tons of delegates, our pro-life supporters, to become delegates in their local Electoral District Association,” Fonseca said in an interview. “We’re waiting to see the results of that. … Hopefully, we have a clear majority of social conservatives as delegates at the convention.”

Fonseca says the CLC has been promoting over a dozen policies—what he characterizes as “pro-life, pro-family, pro-free speech policies”—in hopes they will make it to this year’s convention. The organization’s top priority is erasing the party’s stated policy that a Conservative government will not support legislation to regulate abortion.

Originally slated for August 2021 as an in-person meeting, the convention was moved up following a decision to switch to a virtual format due to the pandemic. CPC president Scott Lamb said the timing is good because it allows the party to gather feedback from its members and build that into its platform before a snap election is called.

“In a minority Parliament, the next election could come at any time, and holding the convention later risks having an election before we can gather views from our membership,” Lamb said in a press release in November.

Six months after the Conservatives’ leadership election last August, at which social conservative candidates Derek Sloan and Leslyn Lewis received strong support, SoCons appear to remain a significant segment of Conservative Party members—Fonseca estimates 40 to 70 percent.

Lewis, a lawyer from Toronto, was a relative unknown before last year’s leadership race. She was unapologetic about her social conservative values, including her pro-life stance, and ended up neck-and-neck with longtime Tories Erin O’Toole and Peter MacKay. In the second round of voting, Lewis garnered 30 percent of votes, behind MacKay’s 34.78 percent and O’Toole’s 35.22 percent.

Conservative Leadership Debate 20200617
(L-R) Conservative Party of Canada 2020 leadership candidates Erin O’Toole, Peter MacKay, Derek Sloan, and Leslyn Lewis wait for the start of the French Leadership Debate in Toronto on June 17, 2020. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Sloan, despite being ousted from Conservative caucus last month, has reportedly been a major driving force in mobilizing SoCon groups ahead of the convention.

SoCons are becoming more engaged in politics due to what they see as a society in decline as a result of the erosion of traditional Christian beliefs, including in “the sanctity of life, in family, in freedom, and in faith,” says Fonseca. In addition to abortion laws, CLC notes several key issues of concern, such as the expansion of euthanasia laws, the sex-ed curriculum in schools, and the erosion of parental and constitutional rights under Bill C-6, the Liberals’ conversion therapy legislation.

In their efforts to mobilize ahead of the CPC convention, SoCons are also reacting to efforts to sideline those issues within the political establishment—including in their own party—as well as among elites and institutions such as legacy media, Fonseca says.

He notes that shying away from electing candidates who support those issues, out of fear of losing the election, is “a bogeyman excuse” that doesn’t hold water.

In a recent email, PAFE called on members to use the convention as an opportunity to keep the party representative of all members.

“The CPC party does not belong to any one person or set of people, it belongs to all of us. All of us deserve to have our voices represented in the party,” wrote PAFE president Teresa Pierre.

“And that’s what we’ll be defending, our democratic right to fair representation, by sticking with the Convention process.”