Tories descend on Halifax to talk policy, party politics at final pre-campaign convention
As trumpeted by the exclamation mark-festooned countdown clock on the official event website, there are less than three days and five hours to go — at least there were when this post went live — until card-carrying Conservatives converge on Halifax for the party’s final extended family reunion before the next election. This election is one that most of those in attendance firmly believe — or, at least, hope — will make Andrew Scheer Canada’s next prime minister.
Over the course of the three-day gathering, delegates will engage in vigorous — at times, possibly even more vigorous than some senior party officials would prefer — debate about grassroots-initiated proposals to amend, update and, in some cases, reverse, current party policy on everything from supply management to abortion. Along the way, it’s also possible there will be changes to the party’s internal governance system and leadership process.
Conventioneers will get to elect a new slate of national council members and attend hands-on workshops on various aspects of campaign prep, including voter outreach, canvassing, volunteer mobilization and fundraising. And of course, if they have the time and energy, even check out the ever-popular hospitality suites. (Most people make time for this!)
As for the unofficial agenda, given the now seemingly constant stream of headline-generating tweets emanating from Scheer’s erstwhile leadership rival Maxime Bernier, reporters and party operatives alike will be keeping close tabs on just how warm a reception the self-described “Albertan from Quebec” gets from the rank-and-file Conservatives on the floor. There’s likely to be a fair number of Conservatives who backed him during last year’s leadership race among them on said floor.
The party’s rapid response crew will also be on high alert for any major twists in the plot leading up to Saturday’s plenary session.
As for Scheer, he’ll be under pressure to wow the crowd when he takes the stage for the first time since he took over the post left vacant by Stephen Harper. Although polls suggest the Conservatives are slowly but steadily creeping up on Team Trudeau, Scheer himself doesn’t seem to have made much of an impression with the public as yet. While that’s not yet sufficiently alarming as to cause an internal crisis of confidence, it is something he’ll likely want to address when he speaks to the crowd.
Team Trudeau heads to Nanaimo to prep for the fall sitting
Meanwhile, just before the festivities get underway in Halifax, a far more exclusive — at least as far as the invite list goes — gathering is set to take place on the other side of the country. Team Trudeau’s front bench will spend two full days sequestered behind the closed doors of a makeshift cabinet room somewhere around Nanaimo. The location hasn’t yet been disclosed.
Unlike the Conservative convention, there’s no formal agenda for this working session — which the official PMO notice points out is the first full meeting of the current ministry since the prime minister rearranged the lineup in July. But it’s not hard to guess what might be topping the topic list: the continuing Canada/U.S. trade tensions, for one, as well as those on-again-off-again NAFTA renegotiations, the state of Canada’s border security after a sudden upswing in irregular asylum-seekers and the sudden outburst of diplomatic rancour emanating from Saudi Arabia.
On the domestic front, there’s the renewed call for action on gun crime, particularly in Toronto and Montreal, as well as the looming legalization of marijuana.
And while the likelihood the Liberals are setting the stage for a snap election is widely believed to be sitting somewhere between slim and none (as Trudeau said himself last week), there’s still a chance — possibly even a fair-to-moderate one — that a good chunk of those in-camera conversations will be on the pros and cons of proroguing the House before the scheduled mid-September recall.
Such a move, while potentially controversial given how many bills are still languishing on the order paper, would give the government the opportunity to both recap its successes thus far, and preview what’s on the legislative priority list between now and the next election. Barring the aforementioned-and-summarily-dismissed surprise writ drop, that’s now approximately one year away.
Finally, given the choice of locale, it’s a good bet there will also be considerable focus on issues of particular concern to British Columbia, both inside and outside the confines of the cabinet confab, including the latest developments on the Trans Mountain pipeline front and the wildfires ravaging the province’s interior.
Veteran and newly minted ministers hit the West Coast circuit
Aside from the traditional pre- and post-retreat press conferences and the occasional ad hoc scrum in the hallway outside the meeting room, up-close-and-personal ministerial sightings will likely be frustratingly few and far between for reporters tasked with covering the working session, as virtually all of the official business will, as always, take place far from the prying eyes of the press.
According to the flurry of advisories that have come out over the last few days, however, a full contingent of ministers is set to fan out across the province, promoting the government’s record and handing out fresh installments of federal funding in advance of the cabinet retreat.
Among the appearances currently scheduled before the ministerial get-together kicks off on Tuesday:
- Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains drops by the Vancouver Island Conference Centre to chat with tech experts, industry representatives and entrepreneurs as part of his recently launched cross-country consultations on “digital and data transformation.” As per the background release, that “engagement process” is set to wrap up by mid-September.
- Also set to meet with “stakeholders and organizations” is newly installed Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez. He will survey regional representatives on “priorities facing various cultural communities” during back-to-back meetings in Vancouver, Surrey and Burnaby on Monday, as well as pay a visit to an “important Indigenous heritage site” — the Ye’yumnuts Village on Vancouver Island — Tuesday morning.
- Environment Minister Catherine McKenna makes her way to a water works facility in Ty-Histanis to mark the completion of an “investment infrastructure project” within the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, while Treasury Board President Scott Brison will do the honours on Ottawa’s behalf at a similar event to “celebrate” a now-completed project at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops.
- Employment Minister Patty Hajdu will “highlight” Team Trudeau’s much self-ballyhooed boost to the Canada Child Benefit at a Victoria community centre before meeting apprentices at Camosun College.
- Elsewhere in the Victoria region, Seniors Minister Filomena Tassi will trumpet her government’s “commitment to seniors” during a tour of the welcome gardens at the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society, as well as stop by the Victoria West Lawn Bowling Club and the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary, all of which have benefited from federal seniors’ funding.
- Small Business Minister Mary Ng ferries a fresh batch of federal support to Richmond-based Sable Shortbread, a “gourmet artisan” bakery that, as per its website, “believes in the simplicity of good food made with love.”
Finally, after the cabinet retreat wraps up, Finance Minister Bill Morneau will hit the party fundraising circuit in Vancouver Centre, where he’s set to headline a $500-per-head reception alongside veteran Liberal MP Hedy Fry on Thursday evening.