CPC 2008 Policy Convention

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Bruce Campion-Smith
Ottawa Bureau Chief, Toronto Star, November 16, 2008

WINNIPEG–Federal Conservatives have called for stripping the Canadian human rights tribunal of some powers and a tougher crime agenda, including charges in crimes that result in the death of an unborn child, despite warnings the move will reopen the abortion debate.

Some 2,000 delegates wrapped up a three-day policy convention yesterday after an afternoon session debating policies on topics as varied as human trafficking, health care and crime crackdowns. It was the first Conservative policy convention in more than 3 1/2 years.

The resolutions are not binding on the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Still, the warnings of potential controversy didn’t deter the party from adopting a resolution calling for additional charges for individuals responsible for injuring or killing a pregnant woman’s unborn child.

“If you vote for this resolution, you are essentially saying that the unborn child is a person. Therefore you are reopening the way to that slippery path that will take away a woman’s right to choose. This is the thin edge of the wedge,” said one delegate from Saint John, N.B.

The party was not keen to air this issue – debate was limited during the private workshops on Friday and organizers cut off arguments yesterday over the objections of some delegates.

Speaking to reporters after the vote, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson was quick to note Harper has publicly stated the Conservatives will not reopen the abortion debate.

And he noted the government has already promised legislation that would force judges to consider whether the person injured or killed in an attack was pregnant as an aggravating factor when issuing a sentence.

Nicholson endorsed the crime resolutions passed by the party members, including a call to repeal the “faint hope” clause, thereby removing the possibility of parole before 25 years for offenders given life sentences.

As well, delegates demanded the government seek mandatory life sentences for any person convicted of a third serious violent offence.

“Let’s stop coddling these criminals. Let’s put them away,” one delegate said.

During an afternoon of debate and votes, the party endorsed a call to strip some powers from the Canadian Human Rights Commission to probe complaints related to hate speech.

The resolution comes after Maclean’s magazine was summoned before the human rights tribunal to defend an article that critics complained exposed Muslims to hatred or contempt.

While the commission dismissed the complaint, there were worries that freedom of speech was being impinged.

On the subject of health care, delegates did heed cautions of potential fireworks by rejecting a resolution urging provinces to “further experiment” with different means of delivering health care, including the private sector.

Delegates also passed resolutions calling for strong action against human trafficking and urging Ottawa to play a lead role globally to curb the practice.

They also passed a resolution of “diversity principles,” calling on Canadians to “adopt Canadian common values” despite the objections of one delegate it would turn the country from a “mosaic to a melting pot.”

The more contentious debates took place out of public view Friday when the resolutions were hashed out at policy workshops closed to the media.

Liberal MP Marlene Jennings, here as an observer, accused the Conservatives of trying to keep the right-wing elements of the party – and their push for a conservative agenda – under wraps.

“They don’t want Canadians to know that the Reform is alive and well and kicking and in some cases screaming in the Conservative party,” said Jennings (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce–Lachine)

Earlier in the day, Conservatives were told the party is debt-free and ready with an election war chest, a stark contrast to the Liberals, who are struggling with debt.

Irving Gerstein, chair of the Conservative Fund Canada, boasted his party’s “leading edge” fundraising tactics, which include data-mining and targeted marketing, give the Conservatives the ability to single out potential supporters and tap them for votes and money.

“We are ready to fight the next election whenever it may come,” Gerstein said.

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