Tory grassroots vote against surgical, pharmaceutical care for transgender kids

QUEBEC — A future Conservative government should prohibit "medicinal or surgical interventions" for gender-diverse and transgender children, delegates to the party's policy convention decided in a vote on Saturday.

Members were gathered in Quebec City for the final day of the party's three-day policy convention and voted on a suite of amendments to the party's policy handbook, ranging in issues from foreign affairs, the environment and health.

The proposal that any future Conservative government prohibit "life-altering medicinal or surgical interventions" for those under 18 who are looking to transition came from a riding in British Columbia.

It passed with assent from 69 per cent of voting members.

"Some things are simply too important to leave to parents and children," said delegate Scott Anderson.

But delegate Lisa Bonang of Nova Scotia said age is not tied to consent and chided a vote in favour of the policy as flying in the face of the freedom Conservatives say they value.

"It's pure hypocrisy," she said to a round of applause.

The vote comes as the issue of gender identity and children has gained increasing traction among conservatives in both Canada and the United States.

Despite a push from some social conservatives to wade into the debate, Poilievre has so far resisted doing so. He's instead focusing the party's attention on issues of affordability, which he spoke about at length during an hour-long speech to the convention's more than 2,500 attendees Friday night.

Liberals were quick to attack the federal Conservatives on Saturday, saying the vote mirrors right-wing politics south of the border.

"This is another example of Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives trying to import far-right American-style politics to Canada," Liberal Party of Canada spokesperson Matteo Rossi said in a statement.

Like past leaders, Poilievre has said he is not bound to include the policies adopted at Conservatives' policy conventions into an eventual election platform.

However, he told reporters heading into the convention that he will consider them, and he declined to comment on any of the suggestions before delegates cast their votes.

His office has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Sticking to an economic message and not getting pulled into debates of a more cultural, controversial nature is the key to the party's path to victory in the next election, insiders at the convention say, given the cost of living is top of mind for Canadians.

The premiers in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick have also ushered in their own changes that would require schools to seek parental consent if a child under 16 wanted to be referred to by a different name or pronoun.

That decision has been met with backlash and concern from families with LGBTQ children, advocates, teachers' unions and the respective provinces' children's advocates.

Poilievre was asked about New Brunswick's decision earlier this summer, and he suggested Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should stay out of the issue, saying he believes the matter is one for the province and parents to decide.

Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Heather Stefanson also promised that if re-elected, her government would give more "parental rights" to families when it comes to the curriculum and presentations by outside groups.

The term "parental rights" is increasingly used to refer to the concerns some families and individuals have about what schools teach children about sexual orientation and gender expression, with a particular focus on policies around transgender and nonbinary students.

A second gender-related motion that passed with nearly 90 per cent of the vote from delegates amends party policy to say it believes that women should have access to "single-sex spaces" in areas like prisons, bathrooms and sports.

Limiting transgender individuals from accessing spaces that align with their gender identity has been banned by a series of bills in U.S. state legislatures.

Several other policies that passed revolve around the environment, which continues to be a worry among party members in swing ridings in British Columbia and around Toronto.

"I hear every single time I go to a door that we need more environmental policies," said Port Moody-Coquitlam riding association president Benjamin Strothotte.

"Please give me the tools I need to win. I don't want a Liberal MP anymore."

The Liberals frequently attack Poilievre for not having presented a detailed plan on how the Conservatives plan to tackle climate change. Both Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault and Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez appeared outside the convention to do just that over the weekend.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 9, 2023.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press