Op-Ed by Guest Contributor, Cameron Bonesso
For those of us who live under a rock or purposefully try to avoid the constant barrage of political news, it’s been a little over a month since Derek Sloan was booted out of caucus. Conservative leader Erin O’Toole initiated the process for his removal due to what O’Toole has described as a “pattern of destructive behavior”.
On January 20th, Conservative MPs held a vote on whether to expel Derek Sloan from caucus. The vote resulted with Sloan being kicked out with the vote count never being made public. While no Conservative MPs have come out publicly about voting for Sloan to remain in caucus, anonymous sources have reported that the vote was likely closer to keeping Sloan in caucus than expected. After being booted out, Sloan took to Twitter to encourage his supporters to “not give up their delegate spot” and to “stay tuned”.
What Sloan was referring to is the upcoming Conservative policy and constitution convention being held virtually from March 18th to the 20th. Conservatives across the country will come together for three days next month to vote on policy proposals and constitutional amendments in the wake of what could potentially be an election this year. In order to attend as a delegate, a party member must first run as a delegate candidate in one of the 338 ridings across Canada against other local party members aiming for a coveted delegate spot. Certain party members such as candidates of record and local electoral district association presidents are automatically acclaimed as delegates.
For the past month, local delegate selection meetings have been heavily contested by slates of social conservatives supported by Derek Sloan and other pro-life interest groups. These slates have been active in organizing other social Conservative Party members to vote for them over other candidates. Last week, the results of the delegate selection process were announced with it being reported that pro-Sloan slates have swept ridings across the country. As reported by The Hill Times, several prominent conservatives including former Harper staffer Jenni Byrne, Conservative Fund chair James Dodds, and Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce amongst others have apparently lost their delegate spots to pro-Sloan delegate candidates in their respective ridings.
I’m personally no Sloan supporter, and although I stand behind our party’s current leader, you have to give credit to where credit is due. In the span of just a month, Derek Sloan has been able to get his supporters to run successfully as delegate candidates and claim a large chunk of the available delegate positions in ridings across the country. While Derek Sloan may no longer be a sitting member of the Conservative caucus, he still wields significant influence over the policy and constitution of the party he was previously elected under the banner of.
Say what you want to about previous party leaders, but at least they and their teams successfully organized past conventions by working to ensure that delegate candidates who supported them and would vote in line with the leader’s wishes were the ones who got elected to delegate positions. Erin O’Toole may have a vision to modernize the Conservative Party and reform party policy to be more reflective of Canada’s current political landscape, but without the necessary support of Conservative delegates, it’s unlikely that there will be any moderate policy proposals or constitutional amendments adopted at this year’s convention. Of course, the leader isn’t bound by the party’s constitution or policy documents. The party’s election platform, whenever released, may in fact be radically different from the principles outlined in either of the two existing documents.
What the results of these delegate selection meetings mean for the future of the Conservative Party is that the social conservatives form an important voting block within the big blue tent and that they are a faction of this party that will command significant influence into the next election. If O’Toole wants to keep the party unified under his leadership, he faces a difficult balancing act between appeasing social conservatives and being the voice of the more moderate side of the party. While Erin O’Toole faces a group of social conservative delegates hostile towards him, Derek Sloan can kick his feet up knowing that he has had the last laugh — at least for now.
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