Conventioning the old-fashioned way

Conventioning the old-fashioned way

Unlike so many weak-kneed losers bleating about their freedom like they’ve graduated from the Preston Manning School of Ineffectual Whining, when someone tries to silence me I just write louder. Because that, friends, is how you fight toxicity. By being right up in its face, disturbing its shit. 

I am in the city of my birth for the Conservative Party Convention despite having had my media accreditation rejected with zero explanation. 

I’m not taking it personally, not that it would make any difference. It’s just their modus operandi to deny accreditation except to people they carefully choose for their skills at saying exactly what Dear Leader wants to read. 

I mean, they denied media accreditation to columnist Tasha Kheiriddin, who’s such a big-C conservative she considered running for the leadership of the party. 

This bunch currently in control of what used to be (and could still be!) an honourable political party is nothing more than a romp of institutional vandals smashing through anything including friendly media just so they can own the woke. I don’t think it’s a good idea but they don’t seem willing to budge so I guess we’ll see who rusts first.

Poilievre’s camp claims it sold 300,000 party memberships, which allowed him to win the fall 2022 leadership race pretty handily. Those new members, by definition, weren’t Conservative — otherwise they would already have been members. Where did they come from? 

Considering A) who Poilievre is but mostly B) his widely publicized and vocal support for the convoy that occupied Ottawa in early 2022, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume the bulk of his leadership support didn’t come from the decent, grown-up or progressive side of the blue universe. 

It’s a pretty sad state of affairs to have what used to be a respectable party taken over by vandals and yahoos but it’s not unprecedented. It happened to the Republican Party when it got wowed by Donald Trump’s numbers in 2016. If there are differences between the two scenarios, I’ve yet to identify them. 

L’histoire, elle pète et se répète. 

The mood around the convention centre is pretty upbeat. I’m told by people who were allowed inside that it’s even more so there. I have no trouble believing that. Recent opinion polls show strong support for Poilievre and if there’s one thing that makes political types happy is the prospect that maybe one day not too far into the future they, not the other clowns, will be in government. And if they have to pinch their nose and tolerate Trump-style toxicity to get there, well, what omelette ever got put together without broken eggshells?

Still, it’s a pretty stupid strategy to operate in a communications echo chamber by keeping independent-minded people out. But then, behaving otherwise would mean trusting voters’ intelligence and I guess the conclusion we must come to is that the CPC masterminds do not believe their voters are smart enough to parse through 800 two-syllable words. 

This is in keeping with the changes brought about by Stephen Harper over a decade ago. Mark Bourrie’s 2015 book, Kill the Messengers, was a timely if slightly dispiriting read as I packed my bag for the other capitale nationale. 

The Harper government has set out to kill many messengers. The media is obviously one of them. And, while Harper’s war with journalists has generated some coverage and interest—though perhaps more among journalists than among other people—it’s a small and relatively easy part of his re-making of how Ottawa works. The Ottawa media had been withering for years, battered by the collapse of the news business. There are many other watchdogs in Ottawa, and Harper’s team went to work defanging them, along with anyone who made much noise about the changes imposed by the Harper government. They set out to make sure only a select few people knew how the country was being run, and to change the way Canadians think about Canada.

That’s an excerpt from the first chapter. I asked Bourrie if he was surprised by the convention’s refusal to accredit journalists. His no sounded like a LOL. “They’re trying to replace what we think of as media with their idea of media,” he told me when I caught up with him earlier this week. “They will let some outfits in. But there’ll be pretend media…” 

You know, I get that parties need to control their message, otherwise all kinds of people will say daffy things and the poor beleaguered comms staffers will spend all their time putting out fires. Controlling who can speak and what they can say is a good strategy for a party that includes so many bipeds who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a microphone. 

But to go from there and try to control what journalists say about you by making sure they’re not in the room to report on what you said is… how to say this with tact and délicatesse? 

It’s fucking stupid, and self-defeating to boot.

It’s funny how control freaks never stop to think about whether their grip is actually on the right stuff. Consider how they’re letting their party members get away with “debating” all kinds of wacko policies (read them all here). 

Among the doozies: 

1066: A Conservative government will restore merit in Canada’s innovation by directing hiring practices associated with federal research funding away from ideology and instead emphasizing first and foremost, supporting and retaining Canada's top research talent, irrespective of personal immutable characteristics. 

(“Irrespective” is totally not a word and what ideology do you mean?)

1342: The Conservative Party recognizes that open dialogue is the basis of any democratic society vital to resolving conflicts. For this reason, the Conservative Party supports freedom of speech for all Canadians. The Conservative Party will promote policies and legislation designed to protect freedom of speech and freedom of speech expression (Speech) in Canada the public square, including media and internet platforms in accordance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We will safeguard Canadians’ Rights to create and access content on the internet without government sanctioned censorship, and nullify unconstitutional restrictions.

(“Nullify unconstitutional restrictions,” snort.)

998: The Conservative Party does not support forced political, cultural, or ideological training of any kind as pre-condition of employment or practice. Those employed in the public sector, unions or self-regulated trades/professions should not be forced to make affirmations, or participate in ideological programs, as a condition of employment or practice.

There’s more, don’t worry. But they’ve already been reported on so you don’t need me to go over them again. You’re welcome! 

To be fair, and I do my best to be that, there are also good policy proposals in there. If only I hadn’t had my motivation killed dead by the rotten treatment I received from the CPC comms shop, I’d have been pleased to highlight more. Here are two that caught my eye anyway. 

1254: We support improved rail infrastructure across Canada, including innovative high-speed passenger rail where warranted. This would ease conflicts between passenger and freight trains, reduce highway congestion and GHG emissions, and promote national unity and inter-provincial trade.

1356: In recognition of the service of Indigenous Veterans, a Conservative Government will provide due compensation to Indigenous Veterans - including their spouses, widows, dependants, or estates - who lost Indian status following their return from service overseas. Compensation will take into consideration benefits and settlements to which they are entitled.

Please note that whatever gets approved at the convention does not bind the leadership. But it’s a good sign of what the bulk of the active membership wants, ideologically (as it were).

There’s a word for people who blindly follow a leader who appears to be successful in the hope of getting some tangible benefit or other, but I can’t remember what it is… 

The mood around the convention centre, as I said, is pretty upbeat. Recent polls are a dream come true for people who have always felt left out of the cool Laurentian (but I repeat myself) parties. There are no shortages of stories right now of people complaining that the prime minister is allowing himself to be defined by the opposition and is way too aloof for his own — and his party’s good. 

I’m not going to sit here and pretend those polls mean nothing. Clearly something is resonating. Everyone’s guess is housing affordability and I don’t disagree. It’s a message that hits home, so to speak, because it’s very real and very immediately relevant to millions of voters. 


We are a long way away from the next election and experienced people in this business know that peaking too soon is not ideal. If I were Justin Trudeau, I’d be mighty tempted to believe that Poilievre has nowhere to go but down, and that he’ll do that by his own self. Why would he give the blues the satisfaction of reacting to their taunts? 

Secondly, while currently Poilievre is connecting with voters on the issue of housing affordability, his solution (getting rid of “gatekeepers” and red tape) may not convince people he’s the right person to solve the problem. You know one big advantage a government has over its opposition? It can quickly get money out the door to individual voters in need of relief. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a big program for housing affordability timed to coincide with a pre-electoral period, by pure amazing coincidence. 

Unless of course interest rates come back down within, say, eight to 10 months and the crisis abates for a significant portion of the electorate. 

And that’s saying noting of the negatives associated with Poilievre and his toxic wing of the party, especially with regards to reproductive rights and basic respect for LGBTQ and gender diverse people. 

The party is looking united because nothing glues people together like perceived success. There are many people in the party who, behind the curtains, are very unhappy to have him as their leader. They are quiet right now, but they’re not silent. I know this because they speak to people like me. They will be a lot less quiet when Poilievre stumbles. 

Right now everyone seems to think Poilievre is unstoppable, based on a couple of weeks’ worth of favourable opinion polls a year or two before the next election. I’ve been wrong in my predictions too many times to count, but I will nevertheless humbly suggest that we wait until we’re closer to an actual voting booth to be this decisive in our prognostics.