Conservatives debate whether to declare that 'climate change is real' at policy convention

·7 min read
Supporters attend the opening ceremony of the Conservative national convention in Halifax on Thursday, August 23, 2018. (Darren Calabrese / Canadian Press - image credit)
Supporters attend the opening ceremony of the Conservative national convention in Halifax on Thursday, August 23, 2018. (Darren Calabrese / Canadian Press - image credit)

After grappling with Canadians' climate concerns in recent election cycles, Conservatives engaged in fierce debate today over a policy proposal from a Quebec riding to declare that "climate change is real."

The Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier riding association's proposed policy change would add green-friendly language to the Tory playbook.

The backer is asking delegates to affirm that the party "recognizes that climate change is real" and that "the Conservative Party is willing to act."

"We believe that Canadian businesses classified as highly polluting need to take more responsibility in implementing measures that will reduce their GHG emissions and need to be accountable for the results. We believe in supporting innovation in green technologies," the policy proposal reads.

While the policy had the support of at least one caucus member — B.C. MP Dan Albas, who said "climate change is real and growing green technology will help the environment and help Canadian jobs" — a number of delegates stepped forward today to oppose it.

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"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 shouldn't 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."

"This is a big-government, costly policy that unfairly affects our industries. I just think we should be focused on bigger issues," said the delegate, adding the federal government should be more concerned about the dumping of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River. (Canada dumped 900 billion litres of raw sewage into waterways between 2013 and 2018.)

A delegate from Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, a district in rural eastern Ontario, said she couldn't support any green policies until the health and safety concerns of "industrial wind turbines" are better understood.

Some Canadian health studies have suggested that these turbines could harm human health if they're situated too close to population centres, and could lead to "noise-induced annoyance." Although, a 2014 Health Canada study of this issue also found that wind turbine noise exposure was not associated with self-reported medical illnesses and health conditions.

Delegates who backed the policy said they want Canada to embrace green technology while still supporting extractive industries like the oil and gas sector. Some of those Conservatives assembled also bristled at another proposal that would replace "fossil fuels" with the word "hydrocarbons" in the party's policy platform, suggesting such a re-brand was a needless sop to climate change activists.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole has promised the party's election platform will contain a climate change plan that could cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

To attract new supporters — especially millennials — O'Toole has said he wants a made-in-Canada net zero approach that sees government partnering with and pushing companies to bring their emissions down, and carbon pricing that targets only industries, not individuals.

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole has promised the party's election platform will have policies to address greenhouse gas emissions.
Conservative leader Erin O'Toole has promised the party's election platform will have policies to address greenhouse gas emissions.(Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

"You're going to see a very detailed plan ... that will, I think, make our commitments probably faster than Mr. Trudeau without a running-out-of-control federal carbon tax that he's already promising," O'Toole said in February.

By day's end, the nearly 3,500 elected delegates on hand will vote on party policies on everything from national standards for service dogs to small nuclear reactors and the CBC.

Delegates will vote later today on the climate motion and others; results are to be released tomorrow.

Another policy that prompted strong reactions among delegates dealt with promoting free expression on university and college campuses.

Conservative-minded activists have long maintained that post-secondary institutions are hostile to the free flow of ideas. One delegate said universities have become "woke indoctrination centres" where leftist ideas dominate and right-wing ideas are dismissed as insensitive.

The Conservative riding association in Vancouver Centre is proposing a policy to tie federal funding to a university's efforts to protect free expression. Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, the party's jobs critic, also endorsed the plan, saying that university administrators are too often intent on "shutting us down for words that give them offence."

"There is no charter right against being offended," Poilievre said. "We have the right to express ourselves freely, especially when others in authority disagree."

Some delegates said such a policy would be unworkable and that post-secondary funding should not be politicized, while noting that education is largely the responsibility of the provinces.

Before addressing policy proposals, the assembled delegates voted on a series of amendments to the party's constitution Thursday.

The 'Andrew Scheer clause'

A double majority of delegates — a majority of delegates overall and the majority of delegates in the majority of provinces — agreed to implement mandatory recounts for close leadership election races (when a final count is within 1.50 per cent) and to mandate that party funds must be used exclusively "to advancing the political and electoral interests of the Conservative Party."

Some delegates have dubbed that latter amendment the "Andrew Scheer clause." The former Conservative leader came under fire both from within and outside of the party when it emerged last year that he had billed the party for his children's private Catholic school, among other personal expenses.

Members also passed an amendment to change the way points are distributed in leadership elections.

Some members maintain that ridings with small numbers of members — many of which are in Quebec and Atlantic Canada — have too much influence over leadership contests. As it is now, ridings with only a few dozen Conservative members have the same sway as those with thousands of members.

After this change, each electoral district will be allocated 100 points or 1 point per vote cast — whichever number is lower.

In about 20 Quebec ridings in the last leadership election, fewer than 60 members cast a vote. In Bourassa, a riding in Montreal's north end, just 23 party members cast votes — and yet they had the same sway over the result as some ridings in Alberta and Saskatchewan where several hundred votes were cast.

"Every step we make toward one member, one vote, brings us closer to the assurance that the leader will always be picked by Western members," a Quebec organizer, speaking on background, told Radio-Canada.

"We will keep our weight as a riding if we work hard to get to 100 members. It is an incentive for ridings to work harder to raise their membership numbers," a Quebec MP, also speaking on background, told the French-language arm of the CBC.

Delegates rejected electronic voting for leadership contests, more restraints on who can run under the party banner in federal elections and a move to replace the word "compassionate" with "progressive" in the party's statement of principles.

Delegates also rejected a move to create a specific number of youth delegate positions at conventions and a youth council for young Conservatives.