On Saturday, February 21st, all of us interns headed down to Niagara Falls, Ontario for the annual PC Party policy convention. This was a three-day event which gathered party members, grass-roots organizers, the party executive, general observers, journalists and experts from all major issue-areas that were on the agenda. The Sheraton-on-the-Falls was the perfect venue for this event, playing host to all these individuals who were to leave an imprint on the proceedings.
After registering with the volunteers and receiving our observer passes, we got ourselves a table which we dubbed ‘intern headquarters.’ From there, we watched a few slide shows with multiple choice policy hypotheticals that party members were voting on using wireless hand-held devices. Niagara West–Glanbrook MPP Tim Hudak hosted the first such session, and the questions ranged from the efficacy of government delivery mechanisms, to health-care, to exercising fiscal prudence in difficult economic times.
Soon thereafter, it was time for a buffet-style lunch which also meant that it was time for schmoozing. After we took our seats again, Newmarket-Aurora MPP Frank Klees cordially introduced Mr. Glen Murray from the Canadian Urban Institute who talked about issues facing cities, sharing his own experiences as mayor of Winnipeg between 1998 and 2004. I suppose the thrust of his argument was that cities are hubs for knowledge and innovation, and that attracting foreign investment requires sound governance of cities as the interlocutors of capital for the broader jurisdictions they help constitute.
Later, we had the opportunity to hear from the Hon. Jason Kenney, MP and Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. After extending his greetings on behalf of the Federal government, he delivered a very effective speech on how the Conservatives must appeal to the concerns and aspirations of new Canadians if they are to succeed in future electoral contests against their Liberal counterparts since for so long, immigrants have tended to vote for the Liberal Party.
Following the speeches, Party President Ken Zeise joined Acting Official Opposition leader Bob Runciman in giving out the Trillium Awards to party volunteers in recognition of their contributions through volunteering and organizational work.
Throughout the events, I was periodically chatting with the interns as we shared our views and opinions on the content of what had been said, and what our impressions of the party were. Needless to say, the conference was exceptionally organized and everything ran very smoothly. Next, we dispersed into a few smaller groups and went off to attend the various Policy Advisory Councils, which were relatively informal discussions on different issues giving party members the opportunity to voice their opinions on how extant areas of public policy could be improved, after hearing from non-partisan experts. I went to the PACs for economic development, education, and urban issues.
Certainly, the highlight of the convention for us was the dinner that came in the evening. We were extremely fortunate to have been invited to sit at the head table with the party President, Mr. Ken Zeise who was very welcoming to us. Before dinner was served, we heard two speeches, from Laurie Scott and John Tory. Laurie’s speech focused on the need to consolidate the party as it moved closer to the next general election – and that meant enhancing efforts to help John Tory win the by-election in her riding of Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock. After receiving a standing ovation, Laurie introduced John who kindly thanked her and everyone else for attending. He also thanked the volunteers and organizers who “took care of a million little details” in putting together events such as this.
The bulk of Mr. Tory’s speech centered on the need to hold the government to account in these difficult economic circumstances. He also talked about his own tribulations as leader without a seat, who looked forward to having a successful by-election on March 5 so that the party could begin to move forward and mount a formidable challenge to the governing Liberals by 2011. Needless to say, the dinner was the most memorable part of the day, and having such great seats just made the whole experience that much better, adding to our appreciation of the opportunities OLIP has given us in closely observing partisan functions such as this.