Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MP Jamie Schmale found himself in the minority last month when a majority of Conservative delegates refused to vote for a statement that read “climate change is real and the party must be willing to act.”
A full 54 per cent of Conservative delegates voted against the statement with an election likely to be called within the next 12 to 18 months.
The Conservative Party of Canada met virtually from March 19-21 to start crafting the platform they will present to Canadian voters who may be tiring of the governing Liberals. Only delegates from Quebec and New Brunswick supported the recognition of climate change as real, with every other region rejecting a change to the Conservative platform that would be more in tune with mainstream Canadian views where climate change is recognized by over 60 per cent of Canadians in polling as either an “important” or “very important issue.”
Few observers were surprised that delegates from energy rich Saskatchewan and Alberta voted down the proposal. Delegate-rich Ontario shocked many at the convention by voting 58 per cent against the recognition that climate change is real, putting leader Erin O’Toole and Schmale in the minority among their fellow Ontario delegates.
The evening before the vote, O’Toole gave a keynote address to the convention telling members, “If the Conservative Party is serious about winning the next election they must embrace new ideas even if they go against party orthodoxy.”
“We cannot ignore the reality of climate change,” O’Toole said. “I do not want Conservative candidates to be branded in the next election as climate change deniers… the debate is over.”
Delegates instead ignored the plea from their leader and sent a clear message to the party hierarchy regarding how the grassroots feels about the issue by rejecting new language on climate change. According to Schmale, the rejection of climate change will be ignored by the party bureaucracy when building their next platform.
When asked about the convention and the crucial vote on climate change, Schmale said that O’Toole “has said that climate change is real, it will be a focus, and we need to deal with it. Climate change is in the current party platform, and we will present Canadians a climate change plan sometime before the next election.”
In the Zoom interview with The Advocate, Schmale pointed out how he supported O’Toole’s leadership bid.
“Conventions are held to get feedback. Members vote. Their ideas are funnelled up to the campaign team and the caucus…and we believe that technology and innovation will be the keys to dealing with climate change,” said Schmale.
“The caucus is talking to entrepreneurs across Canada as to what is the best way to reduce our footprint on the environment.”
Is the party divided?
When asked if the party emerged divided from the policy convention Schmale said, “We don’t just focus on one issue. We are a party that highlights free speech and we are a big tent party. We have many different kinds of Conservatives under our tent. The leader has focused on presenting a plan for climate change that does not include a carbon tax before the next election. All one needs to do is go to our website and look at the wording. Climate change appears more than reducing taxation, a prime Conservative principle.”
Schmale was asked to comment on grumbling from Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock riding association members who have spoken to this reporter about O’Toole’s perceived shift to the political centre to try to win the next election, after appearing to campaign as a much more hard line fiscal and social conservative to win the party leadership.
“What has Erin changed?” Schmale asked. “Once people get a chance to know Erin O’Toole face to face they will like what they see. Erin has been leader for the last seven months and because of COVID he has been unable to get out and meet Canadians on the political barbecue circuit. He didn’t get the post-leadership bump in the popularity polls that most new leaders get because of COVID restrictions on public meetings.”
The MP said his party’s priority will be to defeat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “and with the support of ‘blue’ Liberals who believe the party has moved too far to the left it is possible.”