The Conservative grassroots voted overwhelmingly to restrict gender-affirming care for trans youth under the age of 18 on Saturday, distracting from leader Pierre Poilievre’s focus on economic and affordability issues.
Poilievre, in his message to party faithful Friday night, tried to keep the message firmly focused on the economy and affordability issues, two of the most pressing preoccupations for Canadians at the moment, and issues for which the Conservatives typically enjoy an advantage.
However, Conservative members voted 69 per cent in favour of banning “life altering medicinal or surgical interventions” for Canadians under 18 experiencing “gender dysphoria and related mental health challenges.”
The new policy follows moves by conservative governments in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan to restrict trans youth under the age of 16 from using their preferred names or pronouns at school without parental consent.
“Transitional gender surgery is a significant and substantial decision for any adult to make … Children, on the other hand, are not equipped to make that decision,” said delegate Scott Anderson, speaking on behalf of the B.C. riding that sponsored the policy.
Lisa Bonang, a family physician from Nova Scotia, spoke passionately against the motion and argued that “age alone does not determine the ability to consent” to medical care.
“This policy stands against the values of our party to embrace freedom and bodily autonomy. A vote for this is voting against what you say you’re all for, and is pure hypocrisy,” Bonang said.
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As with anti-abortion policy debates at previous conventions, the motion around medical care for trans youth – as well as motions about “single-sex spaces” and affirming the right to refuse medical treatments like vaccines – also distracts from Poilievre’s focus on economic and affordability issues.
Poilievre told reporters earlier this week that he would not be bound by whatever policy positions his party’s base adopted at the convention. While the policies may not necessarily translate into Poilievre’s eventual election platform, they do provide a sense Conservative grassroot priorities.
Freedom of speech issues, promoting Canadian energy products and a more muscular approach to foreign policy and defence issues all figured prominently among those priorities – with most policy motions passing with strong majorities.
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Delegates also passed a new high-level statement on environmental policy, focused on the need to protect a “clean” climate – with one member referring to environmental issues as a major electoral weakness for the Conservatives.
The motion was not without its detractors, however, with one Alberta delegate suggesting it opened the door for “eco-radicals” to attack Canada’s oil and gas industries.
Speaking to delegates Friday evening, Poilievre delivered a long speech drawing from interactions he said he had while on a cross-country tour this summer. He took aim at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and promised to ease Canadians economic anxieties should a Conservative government get elected.
“An economy where the people who build our homes cannot afford to live in them is fundamentally unjust and wrong,” Poilievre said, speaking of Canadians he met during his cross-country tour this summer.
“The family that saw its mortgage payments increase by $1,000 a month, that family’s not angry. They’re just afraid they won’t be able to keep their family home.”
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Policy aside, the Conservatives head into the fall flush with cash and riding high in national opinion polling. Abacus Data recently reported a 14-point lead over the governing Liberals.
In a poll conducted from Aug. 29 to Sept. 4, surveying 3,595 voting-age Canadians, Abacus put Poilievre’s Conservatives at 40 per cent of the national vote, with the Liberals trailing at 26 per cent and Jagmeet Singh’s NDP at 19 per cent.
The Abacus poll – which is considered accurate within 1.7 percentage points – had the Conservatives ahead by six points in Ontario, potentially a troubling sign for the Liberals’ re-election chances. But Trudeau and Singh control when the next election will be, and their governing agreement can last as long as 2025.
The Conservatives are attempting to use that time – and the party’s fundraising advantage – wisely, rolling out a $3 million advertising campaign re-introducing Poilievre to Canadian voters.
Speaking to delegates on Friday, Conservative Fund head Robert Staley said the advertising push will continue leading up to the election, as will Poilievre’s crisscrossing the country to meet with Canadians individually.
“With fixed-date elections, we know that other parties and unfriendly special interests groups will spend heavily in the (pre-election) period,” Staley said.
“I’m not going to give you a number, but we have an amount set aside, cash in the bank, agreed upon by the leader, to spend in the immediate pre-writ period, principally on advertising.”
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