VANCOUVER – Conservatives emerged from a spirited convention Saturday, ties to many of their past policies and politics severed after days of debate that many say is proof that the party is on the rebound.
The party wiped a policy opposing same sex marriage off its books Saturday and adopted another supporting a more permissive approach to marijuana after 2 1/2 days of introspection and intense public debate.
“It’s a demonstration of the maturation of our party,” former Tory cabinet minister Peter MacKay said of the marriage resolution.
“We’re clearly recognizing the law, the realities of people’s lives and I’m heartened by the very open transparent way in which we dealt with this issue.”
The vote followed emotional debates in policy workshops Friday and on the floor Saturday with some social conservatives arguing that any leadership candidate who supported it would automatically lose their vote.
That didn’t faze candidate and MP Maxime Bernier, who spoke in favour of the motion from the convention floor.
“It’s about freedom and respect. It’s about us and telling Canadians that you can love who you want and that you can be in love,” he said.
But if party members were listening to former leader Stephen Harper’s speech Thursday night about the need to stay true to Conservative principles of faith, family and community, then they can’t support it, argued Manitoba MP Ted Falk.
“This motion is an attack on our values and principles,” he said.
Harper had addressed the over 2,000 delegates to the convention Thursday night calling on them to remain united on the road to the 2019 election, taking the stage to AC/DC’s Thunderstuck, a song that was a classic for him on his many political campaigns.
The 2015 campaign failed in part because its reliance on the same old themes and approaches of the past, delegates had heard during a packed session that served as a moment of catharsis for many in the party’s grassroots who told party leaders they had felt sidelines and ignored during the election.
Those complaints were heard loud and clear, said MP Erin O’Toole.
“We’ve had some difficult discussions, we’ve had some frustrations with the campaign,” he said.
“But that’s how we become stronger as a party.”
One argument party officials heard was that they’d put forward no new policy ideas during the campaign and that their ads and attacks on opposition parties were stale.
A key line of attack against the Liberals had been that party’s plan to decriminalize marijuana.
The Tories routinely argued it was going to result in pot being sold to children from corner shops.
But the Liberals are moving ahead with that plan and the Tories need to change their approach, delegates argued.
A resolution that supported peace officers issuing tickets for small amounts of possession was supported by members including former Toronto police chief and cabinet minister Julian Fantino on Friday.
It passed by the broader membership in a vote of 718-491.
Policy resolutions are not binding on political leaders but are often used to help shape platforms.
The Conservatives will next gather in May 2017 to choose a new leader.