The Conservative Policy Convention in Winnipeg ended on Saturday and though the event served as a democratic forum in which party members could introduce and vote on policy to be possibly adopted by the Party, the process was tainted by overt pressure on the delegates to tow the Party line. The most obvious was in Stephen Harper's address to the congregation on Thursday where he stressed the importance of limiting ideological policy discussion, but this was not the first occasion where the Conservative Leader acted to restrain the grassroots of the right.
Even weeks before the Convention it was made clear the Conservative Party was acting to control the agenda by selectively approving policy proposals and in not allowing delegates to know what policies would be debated and voted on. In late October Connie Fournier of the conservative blog freedominion.com offered the explanation that the Party wanted "to control the message. They don't want people talking about things that aren't scripted."
On it's first day the Convention's tone was set by Stephen Harper shifting the importance away from ideology towards a more moderate and restrained approach. Basing his motivation on the economic crisis the Leader told his supporters,
"We will have to be both tough and pragmatic, not unrealistic or ideological, in dealing with the complex economic challenges that confront us...We must listen to all voices, whether they supported us or not."On Saturday Canwest News Service reported that delegates were well aware of the pressure placed on them to limit their discussion. Alan Heisey, a delegate from Toronto, recognized that Harper had forced members to stick to the party message, he went on to add:
"He's intimidated (members) into saying that all your campaign literature and all your statements have to have the same theme. And I just think that's wrong."And though this November Policy Convention is but the second for the relatively new Conservative Party, it was not the first time Stephen Harper was seen as manipulating and limiting the grassroots of the right.
In 1991 at a Reform Party Policy Convention Stephen Harper though much younger was seen as a prominent official within the party, and in an almost eerily similar scene instructed his members not to stray far from the party's platform. The Globe and Mail reported on April 8th of that year:
"Stephen Harper, the party's chief policy adviser, warned delegates that radicalism would create the image of a fringe party. The convention avoided full-blown debates on explosive issues such as the goods and services tax, farm subsidies and gun control."But perhaps the most troubling incident of repressing the general opinions of the party membership was just a year later when in a Reform Party memo both Stephen Harper and his leader at the time Preston Manning cracked down on the party's policy task forces in an attempt "to control and protect the party's agenda." On April 22 1992 the Globe reported that the Reform Party's policy development coordinator complained that "Mr. Manning and chief policy officer Stephen Harper had to meet with one of the task forces 'to redirect the position taken by the task force paper.'"
Though these past incidences happened more than 16 years ago, with Stephen Harper recently repeating them, it cannot be denied that the Conservative Leader has exhibited a tendency of rather limiting grassroot discussion instead of listening to it. And as observers we are left wondering if our Prime Minister would repress his own party members, what shall he do to Canadians?