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Nora goes to the Conservative Convention
But why? And really? And ... can we send you snack money? (Yes!)
This week, a thousand or so Conservative delegates will descend on my city for the 2023 Conservative Convention. And, of course, I’ll be there.
Whether or not I’ll be let into the convention remains to be seen. I apppplied for media accreditation in mid-August and have yet to receive a reply. I’ll be reporting (news, not opinion) for The Maple and The Real News Network.
I’ve never had a problem getting media accreditation from the CPC before but it might be different this time. I should have received an answer by now. Plus, Martin Lukacs from The Breach was denied already. So was Conservative columnist. Kheiriddin noted on Twitter that the standard invitation to the Liberal Party to observe has also not gone out this time.
(And the party is charging a whopping $1700 for an observer pass)
We could be cynical and say: of course the CPC would refuse access to political enemies. The Breach is a left-wing news outlet and an easy no, and Kheiriddin was supportive of Jean Charest’s leadership. Pettiness in politics is always in vogue. But considering that the entire convention will be streamed on CPAC, what is the Conservative Party afraid of? Why would they prefer Lukacs or Kheiriddin to watch from their couches rather than from the back of Quebec City’s convention centre?
There is something electric at conventions that you can only feel if you’re in the room. It doesn’t matter if you agree with the proceedings or not — a large number of people expressing their support or opposition is something that is better understood through feeling it rather than watching on TV. Plus, there are the hallway converations, randomly bumping into people you know, talking to the people who run to the press when they’re angry with the party establishment or excited that their motion is about to be debated — the stuff that makes a convention worth attending.
When I covered the NDP convention back in 2018, I had the most bizarre experience; one that would have never happened had I been watching from home. During a vote on a motion in favour of Palestine, there was a long delay in counting the raised-hand vote. I left the media zone and walked around to hear and see how delegates were biding their time as the front of the room figured out whatever was holding up the vote. From one end of the convention hall, I started livestreaming the floor on my cell. I took care not to show people’s faces so I filmed the back of people’s heads and didn’t linger too long on anyone. An older man, a big guy who has a lot of respect in labour, started berating me. He demanded that I stop filming, claiming to protect his delegates in the process and tried to intimidate me into stopping. The asshole. I walked away, still filming, across the convention floor.
Next, a delegate got to the microphone to call a “point of personal privilege” — “someone” in the room was filming the vote and it was making them uncomfortable. By this moment, I was doing everything I could to stop my hand from shaking because somehow, now, I was the subject of the proceedings. I kept on moving. I don’t remember how the chair reacted but I walked towards the back of the room, leaned on the barrier between the convention floor and the press, still filming.
Nathan Cullen then tried. He came up to me, asked what I was doing. When I looked up at him (still with my arm in the air filming), I saw the CPAC camera rolling. He asked me to stop filming because it wasn’t allowed and I said “I don’t think that’s true. See that camera? It’s been rolling this whole time” I said, pointing to CPAC who had been livestreaming the whole convention. He slunked away.
It helped crytalize in my mind just how scared the NDP’s braintrust was about this Palestine motion. It’s one thing to know that that they’d do everything possible to sink the vote but it was another altogether to document it. That never would have happened had I been watching from home. Not to mention that the stories I filed, like this one in particular, would have been impossible had I not been able to shoot the shit with people and suss out who to talk to. The article, by the way NDP establishment, wasn’t anything to be afraid of.
But the Conservatives are not the NDP. Why should they allow someone like me to attend their convention?
This party is going to replace the Liberals, sooner or later. The engine of the party is its membership and the convention is the largest gathering place of the faithful that the party will have. Because of our de facto two-party system, conventions become key locations of debate and discussion by the people who will be working in every region in Canada to elect members. Parties are not public bodies the way that Parliament is but they might as well be for all the influence over politics they have.
With rock-bottom support of about a third of Canadians, it isn’t just aspirational that the Conservatives will form government (unlike the NDP) — they will form government and the diversity of voices within the convention space are the people who are commited to making this happen.
Parties don’t give journalists access to their conventions because of the kind of press that they hope to receive (or deny access because of the kind of press they don’t want). Journalists are simply part of the game in a democracy. They are part of conventions in the same way that the party needs to order a podium or a hotel room block. And sure, there is some decisionmaking necessary to determine who is and who isn’t a journalist (something that is easy to gauge through principles of fairness, accuracy and peer recognition like do you publish in a mainstream platform or are you always writing for Jimmy’s Blog and if that’s the case, does Jimmy’s Blog produce journalism in line with the principles of fairness and accuracy?) This is a basis part of how a free press within a democracy functions. You don’t want journalists there? Fine — but don’t then bring in the CBC (an agency which one motion calls to be completely defunded) and then deny other journalists with whom you disagree.
The other side of this equation is why in the hell would I want to spend 2.5 days at a Conservative convention?
It’s simple: being in these spaces helps to demystify the modern conservative. It breaks through the trolls and craziness on Twitter and brings you into contact with the members: average people who believe in the vision of Canada being pushed by Pierre Poilievre (I mean, more or less). The last Conservative convention I attended was a long time ago — the Ontario PC convention in 2011 and I wasn’t there as a journalist, I was an observer. Despite the fact that the party had designated two guys to tail me and my colleague every single place we set foot (which, yes, sucked), it was an important event for me. The delegates were average. Painfully average. Unlike the Liberal conventions where everyone looks like a lawyer or a real estate agent, the delegates were so very average, diverse and with opinions that ran the full gamut of the political spectrum. Being present helped remind me of the distance that exists between all parties’ leadership and their members.
For me, this is why I want to be there the most. To hear what people are concerned about and why they think their party is best positioned to govern Canada. Plus, it helps that it’s not far from where I live.
There are two motions about free speech on the agenda at this convention. Denying access to journalists to the convention is an attack on free speech. I hope it doesn’t go unnoticed by the membership. Unfortunately, the rest of the media establishment doesn’t seem to care — Lukacs has the support of three major journalism bodies in Canada but I haven’t seen a single news outlet pick the story up (or, god forbid, ask Poilievre directly about this).
I have been saying that Poilievre’s biggest stumbling block to power is Doug Ford. Not because Ford is unpopular but instead because there are only so many talented staffers to go around. In all parties, the talented staffers move between Toronto and Ottawa as the political winds change. But with Ford in political crisis and the polls showing that Poilievre’s star is ascending, this convention will chart the course for the Conservatives for the next election and very possibly, the next Prime Minister of Canada.
I haven’t been denied accreditation yet. And even if I am, I’ll still be there. If you’re there, come find me.