Liberals look to sharpen their pre-election message as convention opens

·3 min read
The Liberal convention starts tonight with a keynote conversation between Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and former Liberal cabinet minister Ken Dryden.  (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)
The Liberal convention starts tonight with a keynote conversation between Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and former Liberal cabinet minister Ken Dryden. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Thousands of Liberals will gather online for the next three days for a virtual convention the party hopes will set up a sharp contrast between themselves and the opposition Conservatives.

The convention is likely to be the last one before the next federal election. Its agenda is built around themes and keynote speakers assembled to highlight Liberal priorities and progressive policies as the party sharpens its message to voters.

"We will explain in very clear terms the difference between the two main options," said a senior Liberal official speaking on background.

That effort starts tonight with a keynote conversation between Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and former Liberal cabinet minister Ken Dryden. Freeland, sources say, is expected to give broad hints about the direction of the upcoming federal budget.

Freeland already has promised a post-pandemic stimulus package of up to $100 billion and has committed to making child care more accessible. Liberal insiders say they plan to use the pandemic's fallout to try to fix social inequities.

On Friday, the convention headliner is Mark Carney, former governor of both the Bank of England and the Bank of Canada. Like Freeland, Carney is widely viewed by Liberals as a possible successor to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Liberals taking part in the convention may be looking for hints that Carney is finally ready to take the plunge into partisan politics. At any rate, Carney is a high-profile speaker whose presence adds significant economic and climate credibility to the convention agenda.

Will he or won't he? Liberals attending this week's party conference will be looking for hints that former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney is ready to take a run at federal politics.
Will he or won't he? Liberals attending this week's party conference will be looking for hints that former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney is ready to take a run at federal politics.(Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images)

The overarching themes of the convention will be tied together in Trudeau's closing address on Saturday. Liberal sources say the speech will focus equally on the pandemic and the upcoming election.

They say it will have a more partisan tone than the addresses the prime minister has given throughout the pandemic, and its main target will be Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole and his party.

Economy, climate change expected to dominate

The Liberals say they believe the Conservative convention created an opening for them to exploit. Conservative delegates to that convention voted down a motion recognizing climate change as real, while party organizers and executives faced down efforts by anti-abortion activists to dominate the convention.

Trudeau is expected to contrast the Conservatives' convention with his party's values and highlight Conservative criticism of pandemic support programs that have helped millions of Canadians over the past year.

It's all meant to convince Canadians the Liberals are focused on the serious policy issues of the day — the pandemic, the economy, climate change, the social safety net, women's rights and systemic racism.

Liberals say they hope the convention shows a party free of the infighting and controversy that beset the Conservatives' convention last month, and that threaten to dominate the NDP's convention this weekend.

Priority policy resolutions up for debate and voting at the Liberal gathering include calls for a universal basic income, for enforceable national standards for long-term care homes and for a green economic recovery.

Nothing on the Liberals' convention agenda seems likely to trigger the kind of internal squabbling the Conservatives have engaged in over the place of social conservatives within the party.

And there's nothing on the Liberals' agenda that promises the kind of controversy and division that the Conservatives' vote on the climate change resolution — or the New Democrats' pending convention debates about anti-Semitism, abolishing the military and nationalizing major automakers — created.