Why We Should Pay Attention to Political Party Conventions

Why We Should Pay Attention to Political Party Conventions
NDP delegates gather on the party convention floor in Ottawa on Feb. 16, 2018. (Canadian Press/Fred Chartrand)
John Robson

Political party conventions are very strange events. Your special ID opens a mysterious portal into a twilight world of frantic resolution debates, rabble-rousing speeches, anxious caucusing, and generally a whole lot of bad coffee, adrenaline, and pamphlets that the rest of the country watches with… uh… hey, we’re having a convention, can I interest you in subclause 3? And yet they are strangely revealing.

Canada just had three major conventions that were even odder than usual because they were virtual. Which come to think of it isn’t odd anymore. And may actually have made the conventions more like real life than usual. Though it’s not saying much.

For my sins and eccentricities, I’ve been to a fair number of these conventions that participants find so exciting they actually look forward to them. And I confess to finding their mystical air of unreality grotesquely fascinating.

Several times a day you step from a noisy sunlit street full of normal human activities and traffic noises into a dim, hushed, frantic cavern. And there people say stuff like, “Mr. Chairman, the delegates from the great state of Missouri cast their votes for the next President of the United States, Yul B. Fergodin,” twist themselves into knots over amendments to resolutions nobody will remember three days later including their own leader, or applaud wildly as Ken Dryden records a shutout of interesting ideas.

In these settings I wonder what the people I’m gawking at think they look like. And the answer is passionate, policy-oriented patriots fit to govern this great nation, not angry, obsessed, pandering weirdos. Which is a bit of an issue because they practise politics a lot, and a less bizarre performance would suggest basic competence they’ll need badly if they end up governing, which they don’t practise much.

Instead, last month the Tories held a convention where their leader proudly proclaimed himself a liberal despite being a conservative. And party members went “We’re not,” which left everyone wondering whether that stuff really shouldn’t have been worked out quietly beforehand. Then their leader went to a conference this past weekend where he proudly proclaimed himself a conservative despite being a liberal, and nobody believed him.

The same weekend, April 9–11, the NDP held a convention where they were bitter, angry, and anti-Israel. Which they think will make people rush to support them, whereas their best hope is that nobody noticed. Including the bit where much of the discussion time was consumed with points of order and technical glitches. Probably a mercy given that the alternative was to hear Jagmeet Singh rave about “the ultra-wealthy,” “those who profited off the pandemic, the ultra-wealthy,” and “luxury yachts” like Orwell’s ghastly hack in “Politics and the English Language.” But on the competence issue the disorganization was a bit unfortunate.

The Liberals also held a convention at the same time, April 8 to 10. Which I guess is like luffing someone in a sailing race for those who care. For the rest of us, who did the Liberals want us to think they are?

People with sacks of cash, apparently, which they will give us if we vote for them. Thus Justin Trudeau unleashed a withering critique of Erin O’Toole as a totally unprincipled right-wing maniac not interested in “real solutions to real problems.” Like getting you a subsidy in return for your vote.

Which has always been the Liberal self-image: While the NDP raves from the far left and the Tories are heartless right-wingers, the Liberals deliver the bacon.

You want jobs? We got jobs. Corporate subsidies? Check. Oh, you want cheques? Here, have some tax credits. But in the old days the idea was that while their hearts were in the right place, so were their heads so they wouldn’t smother the economy or empty the treasury. Nowadays we’re not so sure, and a convention might usefully have been devoted to reassuring us. Instead, they discussed an entire bakery in the sky, from national pharmacare to a universal basic income to ending racism to Canada’s Green New Deal, and went after the Tories as big bad meanies, while the NDP went after them as big bad meanies and the public went elsewhere.

With some justification. Because one thing you won’t hear at these conventions is that governing is hard. Or that our opponents mean well but don’t understand that governing is hard. Or a detailed explanation of why some particular issue wasn’t solved long ago because it’s hard and requires tough choices, and even our policy, while preferable to those of the rival parties, will bring tradeoffs, not nirvana.

Unfortunately, one or more of these groups will end up trying to govern. So it’s worth paying attention to what they’re trying to say and how. If only to realize there must be a better way.

John Robson is a documentary filmmaker, National Post columnist, contributing editor to the Dorchester Review, and executive director of the Climate Discussion Nexus. His most recent documentary is “The Environment: A True Story.”
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
John Robson is a documentary filmmaker, National Post columnist, contributing editor to the Dorchester Review, and executive director of the Climate Discussion Nexus. His most recent documentary is “The Environment: A True Story.”