Conservative delegates at the party’s policy convention have voted to reject adding green-friendly statements to the policy book — including a line that would have stated the party believes “climate change is real” and is “willing to act.”
The Portneuf—Jacques—Cartier riding in Quebec, which proposed the policy change, also asked delegates to recognize that “Canadian businesses classified as highly polluting need to take more responsibility” and “reduce their GHG emissions.”
Delegates issued a rebuke to climate-minded Conservatives and rejected the policy shift by a margin of 54 per cent to 46. In fact, it was one of only four policy proposals or modifications on a list of 50 pitched by electoral riding associations (EDAs) that were rejected by the delegates.
While delegates from each of the Atlantic provinces and Quebec embraced the “climate change is real” proposal — 70 per cent of delegates from New Brunswick and Quebec were onside with it — those from every other province and the territories voted against the change.
In B.C., the “no” side had just a two-point edge, while the vote was much more lopsided in Saskatchewan (73 per cent against), the territories (69 per cent opposed), Alberta (62 per cent opposed) and Ontario (58 per cent opposed).
A double majority of delegates — a majority of delegates overall and the majority of delegates in the majority of provinces — must agree to an official policy change.
The clear rejection came hours after Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole urged party members to embrace change or risk losing again to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals in the next election.
O’Toole said that if party members are serious about winning, they must embrace new ideas — even if they go against party orthodoxy.
O’Toole told delegates the party “cannot ignore the reality of climate change” and that the debate “is over.”
“We must also recognize that Canadians expect us to have a real plan for the environment. We need to boldly reclaim the environment as an area where Conservatives are leaders,” he said.
WATCH: Erin O’Toole delivers speech to the Conservative policy convention
There was a fierce debate over this policy change during the policy convention Friday, with a clear split in the party ranks over how far the Conservatives should go in addressing climate change.
Some delegates embraced a shift in posture, saying they want Canada to adopt green technology while still supporting extractive industries like the oil and gas sector. Others called the proposal an unnecessary gesture to appease climate activists.
“I’m not sure why it’s necessary for the Conservative Party to declare climate change is real,” one delegate from Scarborough-Centre said.
“The way this section is worded befuddles the issue and may cost us some support. Conservatives need to lead with clarity, focus and intelligent solutions, not buzzwords.”
Another delegate, from Perth—Wellington in Ontario, said environmental policy should not be focused on driving down greenhouse gas emissions.
“It’s not the only pollutant that we have to worry about,” he said. “I’m opposed to this amendment because it unfairly centres on greenhouse gas emissions.”
Delegates also reject medical assistance in dying
Delegates also rejected a modification to the policy book that would have changed the party’s stance on medical assistance in dying — swapping the statement that the party would not support any legislation that would “legalize euthanasia or assisted suicide” for one that says it would oppose “the extension of euthanasia and assisted suicide” to minors and people living with “psychological suffering.”
By a 55-44 vote, delegates voted to keep the status quo.
Delegates also voted down proposals that would have scrubbed a Conservative policy position backing a national missing persons’ registry.
They also voted to maintain their stance on section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.
That section — which is no longer in force, having been repealed by a Conservative private member’s bill in 2014 — prohibited online communications which were “likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt” on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination, such as race, national or ethic origin, colour or religion. Complainants could bring their cases to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
This section of the act was loathed by free speech advocates, who said it went too far in policing online content.