A Conservative Party member from British Columbia looks with a 'no/non' voting card in his hand. Many party members have mix feelings regarding the removal of the traditional definition of marriage from the party’s official policy after the Vancouver convention May 26-28. Photo/Courtesy of the Conservative Party of Canada via Facebook

Social conservatives divided on Tories nixing traditional marriage policy

By 
  • June 2, 2016

OTTAWA – At their recent policy convention held May 26-28 in Vancouver, the Conservative Party removed the traditional definition of marriage from its official policy, leaving social conservatives divided.

Some choose to look at the small victories gained in other policy areas; others are ready to leave the Conservative Party or at the very least, withdraw financial support and time volunteering over the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.

“I voted against it but I expected it to pass and it does not, contrary to media reports, mean we endorse same-sex marriage, it just means our policy document is now silent on marriage,” said Christopher Mahon, a Conservative delegate from Toronto and a former senior staff member in the previous Conservative government.

Paul Tuns, a delegate from Toronto and editor of The Interim newspaper, said the policy change will allow MPs to “vote their conscience on it.” The party has also remained silent on euthanasia, he noted.

For REAL Women of Canada national vice president Gwen Landolt, who did not attend the convention, the vote is a deal breaker. 

Socially conservative delegates were also instrumental in blocking a pro-euthanasia policy amendment in the social policy breakout session by a vote of 213 to 96. "Delegates voted to retain the existing policy against legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide," said Campaign Life Coalition's senior political strategist Jack Fonseca. 

“It’s a tragedy social conservatives in Canada no longer have a party that they can support,” she said. “The Conservative Party at the convention has just become another Liberal-lite party, which we cannot either accept or support. 

“We can only hope that out of this confusion of values that a new party will be formed such as the old Reform Party,” she said.

Landolt said it was on more than same-sex marriage that the Conservatives folded.

“It’s not just same-sex marriage, it was marijuana,” she said. “They drank the Kool-Aid on climate change. They don’t have any backbone on conservative issues. They have just conceded everything to the Liberals.

“The whole slate was liberal-lite. Why would we ever support them financially or by volunteering? The game is over.”

Tuns and Mahon, however, preferred to look at some of the pro-life victories at the convention. 

“For people who hold pro-life and pro-family views there were some victories and some defeats both in the policy and constitutional areas,” said Tuns. “We had those victories because many social conservatives became delegates, attended the convention and voted to uphold our principles.”

Mahon pointed to the victory in adding the word “abortion” to the policy condemning sex-selection abortions. The previous policy had omitted the word. 

“This is the first time in our party's history or that of either of our legacy parties I believe that we have explicitly condemned a form of abortion by name as abortion,” said Mahon. 

“In addition, our constitution now includes as a founding principle that we as a party stand for a ‘belief in the value and dignity of all human life.’ ” 

The convention also passed a robust amendment protecting conscience rights, he said. It reads: “The Conservative Party supports conscience rights for doctors, nurses and others to refuse to participate in or refer their patients for abortion, assisted suicide or euthanasia.”

Jeff Gunnarson, a delegate from Cambridge, Ont., and vice president of Campaign Life Coalition, said six pro-life and pro-family amendments had been on the table, but the national policy committee removed four before the convention. However, the presence of many pro-life delegates at the convention prevented a pro-euthanasia motion from passing to the convention floor, he said.

Though the marriage vote made Gunnarson feel “I’m getting pushed out,” he said social conservatives like himself have to make a decision “as to whether I’m going to allow them to push me out.”

“I have to double my efforts and stay engaged and as a pro-lifer, I have to be part of the process,” he said, adding pro-life people must pursue efforts to be on executive committees of their riding associations, and on the Conservative Party’s national council to “shape the party into a true conservative party” rather than an “alternative liberal party.”

Cecilia Forsyth, a delegate from Saskatchewan and past president of REAL Women of Canada, said the convention left her with “mixed feelings.”

“I do believe we have to work within a party that’s closest to our personal beliefs so we can make Canada a better place for our children and grandchildren,” she said. 

Forsyth said she will not support any leader running for the Conservative Party who does not support the traditional definition of marriage as a foundational principle. 

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