An Instruction Manual for Taking Part in a Political Party Convention
Available in Audio Format:
2023 is the year of political party conventions. The federal Liberals held their convention on May 4-6 in Ottawa, the Conservatives have their’s scheduled for September 7-9 in Quebec City, and the NDP on October 13-15 in Hamilton.[i]
So what are conventions? Are they worth participating in? And how do you get there if you want a say?
What are political party conventions?
Conventions are opportunities for members of political parties to come together, build the party, and prepare for the next election. Most conventions provide opportunities to debate policy proposals from ordinary party members that help the party craft election platforms and policy initiatives. Party leaders are often tested at conventions as well. For example, the NDP has a policy that at every convention delegates vote whether to continue with the leader or have a new leadership contest, while the Conservatives require this leadership review after every election that the party loses. Finally, conventions can also be opportunities to vote for other positions within the party. For example, the Conservatives have a National Council elected at every convention that helps to establish electoral district associations, recruit candidates, and help govern the internal workings of the party.
Although conventions are attended by and intended for committed party members, the policies discussed and voted on at these conventions provide outsiders a blueprint as to what the party grassroots consider important and in what direction the party is headed.
Why are political party conventions important?
These conventions are where stuff happens! If you want a political party to change a policy, elect a new leader, or transform its culture, conventions are the biggest opportunity to make this happen. You can effect change by yourself, on local electoral district association (EDA) boards, or during elections, but conventions are where everyone involved in the party gets together to make some big decisions. If you think about political parties in church denomination terms, political party conventions are like church synods where far-reaching changes can be made.
How can I attend a political party convention?
Each party will have slightly different requirements to attend convention, but here’s the process for one party (the Conservatives).
- Become a member of the party. Only people who have been members of the party for at least 21 days are eligible to attend convention.
- Attend the local electoral district association delegate selection meeting. Only 10 people from each of Canada’s 338 ridings (plus the riding president and the district candidate/MP) can attend the convention, so local EDAs usually have a delegate selection meeting where party members can vote for who gets to go to convention. If an EDA doesn’t find 10 representatives from that riding, they can add delegates later on. Although you must register as a delegate with an EDA, there is no requirement for you to live in that riding. For example, if your local EDA already has 10 delegates selected but your neighbouring EDA has a couple of vacancies, you could ask the neighbouring riding if you can attend under their banner.
- Book your travel and accommodations and register for the convention. EDAs often will reimburse delegates for part of their travel, accommodation, and meal cost but under political financing law they may not subsidize convention fees. Since the cost of attending a convention can easily surpass $1000, check with the EDA if they are willing or able to help cover some of your costs.
- Attend the convention!
How do policy proposals get to a political party convention?
Again, each party has different processes. The Liberals do not have a standing policy handbook; policy proposals suggested and prioritized by the grassroots change from convention to convention. Prior to each convention, party members have the opportunity to put forward policy proposals. These policy proposals are then prioritized by party members, with the top 20 policy resolutions making it to the convention for the final vote. There is also a “fast track” option to get policies to the convention.
The NDP has a standing policy handbook that outlines the party’s position on a whole number of issues. Before each convention, riding associations as well as different sub-caucuses (e.g. Young New Democrats of Quebec) and even unions (e.g. United Steelworkers) propose hundreds of policies across 7 different policy sections. Before the convention, delegates rank their top 10 policy resolutions from each section and the top 20 from each section (for a total of 140) make it to the convention to be debated.
The Conservatives also have a standing policy handbook that is updated at every convention. Here’s how that process works:
- Local party members can suggest policy proposals to their local EDAs.
- Local EDA boards vote on whether the EDA will officially put forward these proposals.
- Proposals are posted on Ideas Lab where anyone can view the proposals. EDA presidents (and other select people) can comment or modify these proposals. For a proposal to be considered at the convention, it must be co-sponsored by at least 3 additional EDAs.
- The top 42 proposals as voted on by party members will go to the convention.
- A further 18 policies will go to the convention through a regional allocation meeting. This is a meeting where party members from multiple EDAs get together and choose which of the proposals will go to convention.
- All 60 of these proposals will go to the convention where they will be debated and voted on at three breakout rooms. The top 10 proposals from each breakout room (a total of 30) will go to the plenary session.
- Delegates at the plenary session will vote on the 30 proposals, choosing to either add them to the party’s standing policy handbook or to reject them by a simple majority vote.
Why should I go to a convention this year?
Conventions are always opportunities to promote biblically based policies, and if Christians are there, they can propose and support policies that stand in contrast to those who oppose the expression of biblical beliefs. For example, positive policies on euthanasia, charitable giving, and free speech were debated and passed at the last Conservative convention, although no policy on abortion made it through the process to be considered at the time. At the last Liberal and NDP conventions, unbiblical policies on prostitution, abortion, and conversion therapy outnumbered the positive policies on long-term care and human trafficking.
Furthermore, electing the right party officials can help clear the way for solid Christian candidates to run for office. In recent years and months, such men and women have been disqualified from running for office or been ejected from political parties. Internal party volunteers and elected representatives failed to allow these Christians to run for office. Ensuring that the people who hold power within political parties are willing to have fair and free nomination races is vitally important.
So where do I go?
If you want to attend one of these conventions this year, here are the links for all three.
Go and be a salt and a light in all corners of the political square!
[i] In case you’re wondering, the Green Party had their convention last year, the People’s Party has never had a convention, and the CHP hasn’t set a date for their next convention.