Conservatives, Liberals to Debate Mix of Policies in Upcoming Party Conventions

March 18, 2021 Updated: March 19, 2021

News Analysis

The Conservative and Liberal parties will soon debate policy resolutions at their national conventions, with the Conservatives staying clear of items pushed by social conservatives and Liberals focused overwhelmingly on progressive items.

The Liberals’ policies set for fast-track approval and others slated for discussion mainly involve items on lowering carbon emissions and expanding the welfare state.

The Conservatives’ resolutions cover a wide range of topics better characterized as practical mechanisms of governance or items that strengthen accountability, along with a few crumbs for social conservatives, such as a national adoption program and opposition to euthanasia.

However, potentially controversial topics such as abortion will not be up for discussion when the Conservative Party of Canada hosts its online convention from March 18 to 20, despite the efforts of social conservatives.

Groups such as RightNow wanted the party to adopt a policy against late-term abortions, given that a December 2019 Angus Reid survey found that 49 percent of Canadians and 68 percent of Conservative voters supported the idea of having a law that prohibits abortion during the third trimester unless the mother’s health is in danger. The third trimester begins in week 28 of a pregnancy.

Both numbers are well above the 40 percent support regarded as a benchmark for a Canadian majority government. Yet somehow abortion has become a forbidden topic, according to Tom Flanagan, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Calgary.

“There’s no future in Canada, I would say, for any politician who wants to be in one of the major parties who wants to be pro-life. I think many of them might be privately, but they’ve learned that they can’t take that position publicly,” Flanagan said in an interview.

“Progressivism has become the dominant religious faith of a lot of different public institutions, such as media, universities, entertainment, even organized athletics and big business, so that it becomes very difficult for a political party to fight progressivism.”

Dan McTeague, president of Canadians for Affordable Energy and a former Liberal MP, is skeptical of the policies the Liberals are slated to adopt and debate at their online convention scheduled for April 9 and 10.

“Amazing that all issues are seen through the eyes of climate paranoia … even telecommunications,” McTeague said.

“Not sure the Conservatives are much different than the Liberals [on climate policies], albeit less radical. However, they still support the ways and means of allowing the Liberals a free ride on climate policies based on unfounded assumptions.”

Flanagan says politicians must talk about climate policies whether they believe policies are needed or not. He points to former prime minister Stephen Harper as an example, saying his approach was “to pay lip service to it but never to adopt a policy that actually would have any effect.”

“So there’s a lot of hypocrisy and there’s a lot of people in different parties that are claiming to support a belief that they don’t really, but they know from experience that they’re going to get savaged by the media [if they don’t].”

David E. Smith, an adjunct professor of political science at Ryerson University, says politicians of past eras staked out more clear stances and that it is more difficult to get a good read on the true convictions of politicians today.

“’[With] statements by spokespersons of different political parties, it’s very hard to grasp their position, or how this position distinguishes that party from some other,” Smith said.

“If you’re trying to explain the position of party A or B or leader A or B [compared] to someone else’s, it’s very hard to explain because often it is so unclear, and the influences or causes of the position are not at all clear.”

Smith said the question of how this happened is worthy of deeper examination, but the role of media and social media is key.

“Opinions are expressed and distributed so freely that it’s very different than it once was. … It leads paradoxically more to conformity than to diversity.”

University of Toronto political science professor Nelson Wiseman says context is crucial for politics.

“In the ’90s, when Paul Martin brought in a budget, he said he was going to [slay] the deficit come hell or high water,’ to use a famous phrase. There was a lot of public support for that. Today, the public seems nonchalant about running up huge deficits,” he said.

“But then again, the context is different. At that time, interest rates were higher, and one out of every three dollars was going to pay interest on the debt.”

Wiseman suggests that the 2008 economic meltdown deflated belief in free markets and that the response to it made the electorate more receptive to amassing public debt.

“Parties reflect the culture, and the parties also contribute to moving and shaping the culture,” Wiseman said. “As time has gone on, the culture, the public, is … more accepting of government intervention in social programs.”

The ability to inspire trust may supersede policy when it comes to political support, he adds.

“A lot of people think, ‘Look, I dont really know the ins and outs of climate change, I dont really know the ins and outs of pharmacare, or whether we should give incentives to companies, but who do I trust more to act on these things?’ And if you lose the trust, you can lose power.”