Ottawa Update: Convention Weekend 2016

In This Issue:


LPC Convention 2016: Policy Resolutions and Party Structure

Liberals wrapped up their 2016 biennial convention Saturday night with a jubilant celebration at the historic Fort Gary Hotel. Delegates from across Canada leave Winnipeg with high spirits given the LPCs win last October and continued strong polling numbers even if Advil sales soared Sunday morning.

Delegates also leave Winnipeg focused on continuing to build the Party and the need to bring even more Canadians into it. How best to accomplish these objectives was the source of considerable discussion. The debate centered on a package of constitutional reforms designed to modernize the LPCs organization and structure as well as do away with the traditional paid membership to the Party in favour of a simple, free, online registration.

While these proposals faced a growing amount of opposition at the start of the convention that quickly melted away once Prime Minister Trudeau became the strongest advocate, essentially turning the issue into a referendum on his leadership, during his keynote speech Saturday. He later personally moved the motion to adopt the constitutional reform package from the convention floor, an action previously unheard of for a sitting Prime Minister.  The motion passed with nearly 95% of delegates voting in favour.

This removes any doubt that the LPC has transformed itself from one of Canada’s legacy parties into a modern political movement build around Justin Trudeau. The Prime Minister made the case that the last election wasn’t about him but rather it was about Canadians in his speech yesterday and the same might be said about the current LPC.

It was remarkable to see how young and energetic this convention was. For perhaps the first time ever, young professionals and parents, hipsters and Liberals young enough not to remember the glory days of the last Liberal administration in Ottawa seemed to outnumber seniors and baby boomers. If there was any lingering doubt that this is the movement Justin Trudeau built then you need not look any farther than who gathered in Winnipeg this week to see how closely the party reflects its leader.

This more youthful and energetic Party bodes well for Trudeau. This team of volunteers not only brings energy and enthusiasm to the work ahead but they are also a tech savvy group, well-positioned to adopt and create new and innovative campaign techniques using big data. This solidifies the trend that using social media effectively becomes ever more critical to winning campaigns. Moreover, capturing the attention and imagination of this younger generation and bringing them into the LPC fold also gives the party the chance to make this cohort life time supporters and contributors that will serve as the foundation of the Party for the decades ahead.

The absence of large-scale protests at the convention is also instructive. It suggests that the Prime Minister and his government have secured significant good will within the environmental and social justice movements. Perhaps the most organized group of protestors were there to call the government to support British Columbia’s liquefied natural gas industry in order to generate jobs in the troubled energy sector. This is an example of the challenge facing the federal and provincial governments in Canada vis-a-vis the commitment to tackle climate change while growing the economy.

Liberals will next gather in 2018 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. But for now it is home for a rest.


CPC Convention 2016: The Leadership Race continues

In Vancouver this past weekend, the Conservative Party ended the Harper era on a positive note, saying goodbye to the only Prime Minister the party has known. Somewhat surprisingly, the focus of the convention remained more on policy than it did on the leadership race that will conclude a full year from now. The “progressive” direction of the party policy (same-sex marriage, decriminalizing marijuana) showed the direction in which the party is planning on heading over the next year, with a focus on putting forward sound policies that will highlight them as a government-in-waiting when the opportunity arises in 2019.

With only three declared candidates (Québec MP Maxime Bernier, and Ontario MPs Kellie Leitch and Michael Chong) working the room in Vancouver, it became clear that many delegates wanted to put the leadership discussion on hold until some of the bigger names (Jason Kenney and Peter MacKay) make a decision on joining the race.

Conservative members came united to rejuvenate – not rebuild – a party that did very well in terms of support in the last election. That enthusiasm built up the level of excitement throughout the weekend. One need not look further than party donations, which set a single quarter record for a non-election cycle, to show that the party continues of have nearly unlimited financial resources to fight the next election campaign. And with a continued focus on (and overwhelming dislike of) current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, those dollars will continue to grow.

Although the leadership race took a bit of a back seat, it was front of mind during the evening with all three leadership candidates hosting hospitality suites (along with a number of potential candidates who are kicking the tires at this point). In terms of networking, Kellie Leitch was definitely the most active, with Maxime Bernier close behind.

But what about the two candidates who are poised to be frontrunners? Both Jason Kenney and Peter MacKay played their cards very close to the vest this weekend, with Kenney clearly indicating that he may have another leadership route to follow, leading a united Conservative party in Alberta to take on the governing NDP. Both believe this is a race they can win, should they put their names forward, but neither see a need to get into the race right way, with eleven months of campaigning ahead of them.

The big question for both individuals is can the Conservatives win in 2019? The honeymoon with Prime Minister Trudeau has not subsided, and Canadian history shows the electorate is usually willing to give governments a second-term. Which begs the question, will Conservative supporters be willing to give their newly elected leader more than one chance to knock off Trudeau, and if so, does either Kenney or MacKay want to stay as an opposition leader for six years?

But what of Kevin O’Leary – Dragons’ Den star and potential future Conservative leader? The one lesson that Mr. O’Leary learned this weekend is that he cannot come in with a PR machine and take over the party. He spent most of his time going from media interview to media interview and spent very little time with delegates on the convention floor. By his own admission, he sees himself as more of a King or Queen-maker, and would love to have that opportunity. However, will that be as a candidate? O’Leary just took out a Conservative party membership over the weekend, which means – according to the party constitution – he cannot become a leadership candidate for six months, or until late November. That may not give him enough time or resources to mount a credible campaign.

One interesting side note was the appearance of Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown in Vancouver at a number of events. Now, as a former federal MP, at first glance being there is not all that surprising. But when you realize the Ontario provincial election will take place a year before the federal one, and that many of the defeated federal candidates are in prime battleground provincial ridings, there is a significant chance that you will see many familiar faces flying the Ontario PC banner in the next provincial election – leaving the federal party to scramble for replacements.

All in all, this was the best outcome for a Conservative convention in the post-Harper era. Over 3,000 delegates made their way across the country with a strong focus on the next election. The party showed a new openness to the media (leaving many journalists to complain about the lack of access at the Liberal convention), but that might be more of a power vs not-in-power situation. And if you enjoyed having two major parties having their convention on the same weekend, you are in luck. Early indications are that both the Liberals and Conservatives will be having their 2018 conventions in the same city. Halifax – welcome to the centre of the Canadian political world – at least for one weekend.