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Poilievre references the fiscal records of former Liberal prime ministers in his speech at the Conservative convention.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre doubled down on his promise to balance the federal budget when he took the stage at his party’s national policy convention Friday evening — and invoked his political rivals’ predecessors while doing so.

Poilievre delivered an election-night style speech in front of roughly 2,500 party members who made the trek to Quebec City for the convention as the Conservatives are soaring in public opinion polls.

One part of the speech focused on one of Poilievre’s key promises: to balance the federal budget if his party forms government after the next election. He suggested many Liberal and New Democrat voters share his “common sense” fiscal prudence.

“[Former prime ministers Brian] Mulroney, in fairness, [Jean] Chrétien, [Paul] Martin, [Stephen] Harper, even NDP provincial governments believed that budgets needed to be balanced … to protect future funding of schools, hospitals and roads,” he said.

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Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said Justin Trudeau’s Liberals represent a ‘radical departure’ from past governments that balanced the budget. Poilievre made the remarks at his party’s national policy convention on Friday evening.

“Many common-sense grassroots Liberals and New Democrats still believe it today, even if their out-of-touch leaders do not.”

Poilievre then switched to French to cite the fiscal record of former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard, who was also the founder of the Bloc Québécois.

Poilievre was introduced by his wife, Anaida, who spoke about her family relying on food banks when they first immigrated to Montreal from Venezuela, and getting donated gifts for their first Christmas. She also spoke of the sacrifices the pair are making as a family with two young children, one with special needs, in pursing the country’s highest office.

“The job ahead is great and it is not an easy one, but it is a very important one,” she said.

A man and a woman in business attire wave to a crowd on a convention hall stage.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and his wife Anaida wave to delegates at the Conservative Party Convention, Friday, September 8, 2023 in Quebec City. (David Richard/Radio-Canada)

Poilievre framed his party as the only alternative to the governing Liberals under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“We don’t know when that election will be, but when it comes, Canadians will have only two options,” he said.

“A common-sense Conservative government … or a reckless coalition of Trudeau and the NDP,” he said, referring to the current supply-and-confidence agreement between the Liberals and NDP.

The Conservative leader spent the bulk of his speech attacking Trudeau’s economic and fiscal record.

“He promised Canadians that if he had a big government that took more power and more money he would change everything, and boy did he ever,” he said, pointing to rising housing costs and the high inflation rates of the past year.

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A man in a suit shakes hands with a crowd as he enters a convention hall.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre shakes hands with delegates as he walks to the stage to speak at the party’s policy convention in Quebec City on Sept. 8, 2023. (David Richard/Radio-Canada)

Poilievre said if his party wins the next election he would eliminate the carbon tax, dismantle the Canada Infrastructure Bank and tie infrastructure funding for municipalities to the number of home permits they approve.

He also reiterated that he would take a tough-on-crime approach if he becomes the next prime minister.

At the beginning of his speech he thanked his parents. His voice broke when he thanked his mother.

“It’s because they made the decision to adopt me and work hard in front of a classroom that I now stand proudly in front of this room,” he said.

Poilievre was often interrupted by applause from the raucous crowd. They also broke out into a number of chants of “bring it home,” one of Poilievre’s catchphrases — which he also used to close out his remarks.

“This is our country, this is our home… let’s bring it home,” he said to a standing ovation.

Following his speech, Poilievre snapped photos with supporters who lined up to meet him.

Proposal on gender-affirming care passes initial stages

Earlier Friday, convention delegates also voted to further debate a policy proposal on gender-affirming care.

The proposal from grassroot members calls on the party to ban anyone under age 18 from receiving “life altering medicinal or surgical interventions” to change their gender.

Jenni Byrne, one of Poilievre’s senior advisers, told CBC Radio’s The House that the proposal passed an initial vote and will be debated more widely on Saturday.

When pressed to say whether the policy could make it into the Conservative platform in the next election if it gains the support of a majority of delegates, Byrne was non-committal.

“We’ll see what the members decide and what transpires during the debate,” she told host Catherine Cullen in an interview airing on Saturday.

“That’s a great thing about policy conventions … this is an opportunity for members across the country to be able to vote and to speak about the policies that matter to them.”

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A crowd fills a convention hall marked with Conservative party logos.
Delegates gather at the Conservative national policy convention in Quebec City on Sept. 8, 2023. (David Richard/Radio-Canada)

Convention delegates also defeated an effort led by social conservatives to change the party’s constitution and overhaul the candidate nomination process.

Anti-abortion activists wanted a change after the party parachuted a candidate hand-picked by party brass into a recent federal byelection in the Ontario riding of Oxford.

A local social conservative sought the nomination. Poilievre’s team wanted Arpan Khanna instead.

Khanna, who has been tasked with ethnic outreach for the party, narrowly defeated his Liberal challenger in a historically safe Tory seat.

“Pierre Poilievre always talks about getting rid of the gatekeepers, yet there’s a lot of gatekeeping around the nomination process. We want to fulfil his talking point when it comes to democratically nominating and electing candidates,” said Alissa Golob, co-founder of RightNow, an anti-abortion group.

VIDEO | What’s up with Poilievre’s new look?

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What’s up with Pierre Poilievre’s new look?

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Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has ditched the glasses and started wearing more casual clothes in a bid to widen his appeal to voters.

She said a closed-door discussion Friday of the proposed constitutional amendment was “very questionable to say the least.” She said the presiding chair refused to release the final vote tally on the change her group and others wanted.

Anti-abortion activists sought to give local electoral district associations (EDAs) the power to veto a nomination decision taken by the party’s national council or leader.

“There’s a lot of Ottawa telling members what we should or shouldn’t be thinking. It makes this whole convention a bit of a facade. If we’re not actually going to have a say for real, what’s the point of coming here?” Golob said.

Golob said she still feels welcome in the Conservative fold because most of the party’s MPs are anti-abortion. She said she simply objects to efforts to suppress the nomination of “so-con” candidates.

“I think people within the office of [the leader of the Official Opposition] like to have a lot of control,” she said.

Poilievre has said a government led by him wouldn’t introduce legislation on abortion. Golob said activists like her won’t give up their fight to curb the practice.

The group wants a ban on late-term and sex-selective abortions if there’s a Conservative victory in the next election.

MacKay urges party unity

Also on Friday, former Conservative leadership contender Peter MacKay said the party has a shot at defeating the governing Liberals if it stays united between now and the next election.

MacKay, the former leader of the now-defunct Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, is more politically moderate than Poilievre but they have a common opponent: Prime Minister Trudeau.

He said the party shouldn’t splinter or allow certain factions to threaten its electoral fortunes.

“If you remember nothing else that I’ve said here today, remember this: in order to build a united Canada we must remain united as a Conservative party,” MacKay said to polite applause from the delegates in attendance.

“Canada, it’s time. It’s time to turn the page. It’s time to undo the damage the current Liberal government has inflicted on Canadians now for the past eight years.”

poilievre invokes former liberal prime ministers fiscal records in speech at conservative convention 5

Peter MacKay says there is ‘fertile ground’ in Atlantic Canada for Poilievre

“This is an opportunity,” says Peter MacKay of Conservative electoral chances in Atlantic Canada. “There is something happening on the ground…and I think you’re going to see a lot of fertile ground for Pierre Poilievre.”

The party already suffered a split in 2019 when former Conservative MP Maxime Bernier left it to start the People’s Party of Canada.

Bernier’s party did relatively well in the last election, capturing five per cent of the popular vote at a time when many Canadians questioned government policies related to the pandemic. That performance likely cost the Conservatives some seats in 2021 campaign.

The party is determined to crush the upstart PPC while also wooing the swing voters who will decide the next election.

“I’ve been to a lot of Conservative conventions over my lifetime,” MacKay said. “But I must say I have never been at a gathering where there’s so much optimism, so much purpose, so much confidence. I believe Pierre Poilievre will be the next prime minister of Canada.”

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