By Stephanie Taylor in Ottawa
On the eve of his first policy convention as Conservative leader, Pierre Poilievre reminded Canadians that he is not bound by the policy ideas the grassroots membership chooses to advance.
Conservatives are gathering in Quebec City beginning Thursday for a convention to talk about what they can do to win the next federal election and debate more than two dozen policy ideas found in resolutions put forward by party members.
Many of the ideas championed by different riding associations fall in line with Poilievre’s own priorities, such as bolstering public safety, making housing more affordable and speeding up credential recognition for skilled immigrants.
Some others, however, appear to go farther than his own stated agenda, including a pitch to pull government funding from the Crown corporation that runs not just the English-language CBC, but also the French-language Radio-Canada. The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. receives about $1.2 billion in annual funding through Parliament.
It’s an idea that is widely popular among the Conservative base, heavily concentrated in Western Canada, but one that those in the party, particularly in Quebec, treat with more caution.
Another policy proposal getting attention ahead of the convention suggests that a Conservative government prohibit “life-altering medicinal or surgical interventions” related to gender for anyone under 18 years old.
On Wednesday, Poilievre said he will not comment on any policy resolution until after members cast their votes, but he also said there is nothing to force a party leader to implement or follow any of the resolutions, even if they pass.
“There’s something like 55 different resolutions, I’m not going to sit here and offer opinions on all 55 of them before they pass because that would be an unnecessary waste of time,” he said Wednesday in Quebec City.
“Leaders are never bound by convention resolutions, but we do take them into consideration.”
That consideration would be for whatever promises Poilievre plans to take to voters whenever the next federal election rolls around. That vote must take place before October 2025, but the Liberals are governing with a minority, so they must rely on support from at least a dozen opposition MPs to remain in power.
That support currently comes from the New Democrats, who agreed to support the Liberals through key votes in the House of Commons until 2025 in exchange for action on top priorities outlined in a confidence-and-supply agreement last year.
Poilievre has previously pledged to “defund the CBC” should he become prime minister, but has hinted that making good on that promise would involve exceptions for Radio-Canada.
During last year’s Conservative leadership race, Poilievre told conservative news outlet True North that he sees a role for the public broadcaster when it comes to providing programming for francophone minorities, which would apply to those living outside Quebec.
“Almost everything the CBC does can be done in the marketplace these days because of technology,” he told host Andrew Lawton at the time. “I would preserve a small amount for French-language minorities, linguistic minorities, because they, frankly, will not get news services provided by the market.”
Pierre Paul-Hus, the Quebec MP Poilievre tapped to serve on his leadership team, told reporters in April, however, that Radio-Canada provides invaluable services to Quebec, too, in addition to francophone minority communities in other provinces.
He said the party’s criticisms of the CBC does not apply to Radio-Canada and that both wings are viewed as separate entities, with the next step needing to be how to manage Radio-Canada separately.
The Crown corporation has said that is easier said than done.
Funding only Radio-Canada would require the government to rewrite the public broadcaster’s mandate, which currently stipulates it must provide services in both official languages. The corporation says changing that would run the risk of using public money to serve only one of the country’s language groups.
The Bloc Québécois has attacked Poilievre for promising to defund the CBC, accusing him of planning an assault on the culture and language of Quebec.
Poilievre, meanwhile, has ramped up his criticisms of the Bloc ahead of the Conservative convention taking place in Quebec City. The party released an ad accusing the Bloc, which only runs candidates in Quebec, of being cosy with Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his climate policies, such as carbon pricing.
While the federal Liberals defend the national price on carbon, which comes with rebates for consumers, as a crucial, low-cost way to meet emissions-reduction targets, Poilievre paints it as a tax that burdens families struggling with increases to the cost of living.
The ad against the Bloc is part of a $3-million ad campaign the Conservatives launched earlier this summer aimed at introducing Poilievre, and the party’s message, to more Canadians.
Banner image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 6, 2023.