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The sharply dressed crowd mingling on the fourth floor of Ottawa's Westin Hotel Wednesday included conservatives old and young, all keen to connect, strategize and discuss the very essence of what it means to be conservative.

This week, conservative Canadians from across the country are gathered in Ottawa for the annual Canada Strong and Free Networking conference, where panellists unpack strategy and key issues and attendees build connections. Formerly called the Manning Centre, the Canada Strong and Free Network works to advance conservatism in Canada by providing research, advocacy and training for those committed individuals.

The political advocacy group is working to turn avid young conservatives into “political animals” and capable leaders, says Leam Dunn-Opper. The 22-year-old is among almost a dozen mentees from the Conservative Values Tomorrow program who are in attendance, all under 30 years old.

Dunn-Opper was in high school during Stephen Harper’s tenure. Back then, he saw conservatism as “suits and being well-composed,” with conservative politicians appearing as “just a robot on stage.”

He feels differently now. Leader Pierre Poilievre and the Conservative Party of Canada are “making it fun and exciting to be a conservative again.”

Dunn-Opper's not the only one who thinks so: A December 2022 Mainstreet Research poll found 46.5 per cent of decided and leaning voters between 18 and 34 favoured the Conservative Party.

This recent change in perception shows “we have a lot more to us than just economic policy,” says Dunn-Opper, who lives in Calgary. “We can take stands on things.”

Under the Liberals, no one can say life has gotten better, says Dunn-Opper, especially when it comes to housing: a key issue for the young people he talks to, along with inflation.

Similarly, 20-year-old Noah Jarvis says the conservatives can be an alternative to the Liberals, who “are making life harder for young people.”

Leader Pierre Poilievre and the Conservative Party of Canada are “making it fun and exciting to be a conservative again,” says one young conservative at the annual Canada Strong and Free Networking conference. #cdnpoli
Noah Jarvis, 20, is one of 15 mentees in the Conservative Values Tomorrow program, run by the Canada Strong and Free Network. He spoke to Canada's National Observer at the organization's annual networking conference in Ottawa. The program aims to help young, avid conservatives develop their skills and build their networks so they can emerge as the next generation of leaders. Photo by Natasha Bulowski / Canada's National Observer

Jarvis, another Conservative Values Tomorrow mentee, launches head-on into a hot-button social policy debate: “critical race theory.” This academic theory, which first emerged in the United States, broadly examines racism as a systemic problem as well as the ongoing harm caused by racist policies and institutions. More recently, it has become a political issue south of the border, where conservative politicians and pundits have linked the term to activities like diversity training and acknowledging historical racism in schools, with prominent Republicans referring to it as “activist indoctrination.”

Jarvis says conservatives in Canada need to tackle the issue of “critical race theory being introduced into our schools and just in our society in general.”

He thinks viewing the world through a lens of race is “very harmful … not just to the Black community but social cohesion in general.” It’s “how you create ethno-nationalism and ethnic conflict,” he adds.

The economy is another key issue for Jarvis, but he feels the conservatives have that one under control. Patriotism, on the other hand, is a severely underlooked issue given the divides between English Canada and Quebec as well as the historical rift between Protestants and Catholics, he says. This is exacerbated, says Jarvis, by a federal government that “continues to alienate certain parts of the country in order to appeal to other parts of the country.”

In a panel on how to communicate conservative messages to everyday people, moderator Emma Haynes talked about how the younger generation fits into the picture.

Emma Haynes moderating a panel on the first day of the Canada Strong and Free Networking conference. Haynes is part of the Conservative Values Tomorrow program and works on Parliament Hill as an executive assistant for MP Philip Lawrence. Photo by Natasha Bulowski / Canada's National Observer

“I think young people really want to be a part of something,” Haynes says. “They want to feel like they're working towards something, to making a better future, and I think the left is so successful with this and they can make you feel like you're being a part of a grander movement.

“I think that's something conservatives need to work on.”

Tackling climate change is another opportunity for the conservatives, Jarvis says. He thinks conservatives are capable of pushing the issue forward.

“I think there's been a hesitancy within the conservative movement to push on the environmental issue because the left has really owned that issue,” says Jarvis. “And maybe … some conservatives have a misguided idea of what climate change is and isn't.”

Many young people are “very anxious about climate change,” Jarvis adds. He understands climate change is real and that we need to address the issue. But instead of policies like the price on pollution, the government should incentivize the development of technology like carbon capture to grow the economy while fighting climate change, he says.

Last budget, the federal government proposed an investment tax credit worth an estimated $8.6 billion to cover half the cost of equipment used for such projects. The budget before that earmarked $319 million for research, development and demonstrations to advance the commercial viability of carbon capture, utilization and storage technologies.

The federal Conservatives do not currently have a climate plan.

At the 2021 Conservative Party convention, 54 per cent of eligible delegates voted against a motion that would include the phrases “We recognize that climate change is real” and “The Conservative Party is willing to act” in the party’s policy.

Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
March 24, 2023, 11:13 am

This article was updated to correct the spelling of a name

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Aka teaching entitlement early, along with whining and b*tching.

I bet if we dig a little deeper most of the attendees are Christian or harbour a strong view on social conservative issues like abortion or immigrants. Of course, none want to pay taxes.

I believe you are 100% right on your thoughts. The religious group that Pierre is known to support, despite denials, is situated in Ottawa. Pierre is using this naïve group for propaganda purposes as he follows the Trump playbook.

Bingo!

A given.

Pierre Poilievre is economically illiterate and puts on a good show as a snake oil salesman. His true colours have come through at various times and will do anything if it will get him a vote. In the end, he will be just another grifter like Trump and use these young supporters for his own benefit. In the House of Commons, the entire party behaves like children and are too immature to run a country, let alone a lemon aide stand. The party uses right-wing groups to spread disinformation on social media. The entire party is a disgrace to this country.

I wouldn't doubt these young supporters are so called Christians who follow the party belief on abortion and women's rights. If ever elected being so backwards and out of touch with today's reality, Canada would regress back to the 50's, where abortion was not legal, and women stayed at home.

Once in power, the party has proven more than once how corrupt they are to the point that Trudeau looks like a saint in comparison. Trudeau isn't perfect by any means, but now a days, most political parties are not. We elect the lesser of all evils.

The right-wing media machine constantly attacks Trudeau for everything and will make a scandal out of something as simple as the PM letting off the fart in public. It just shows that the conservative party of today, have zero to offer Canadians but deflection from their backwards policies and corruption. If they are so fearful of Trudeau that they resort to disinformation attacks, our PM must be doing something right.

"Many young people are “very anxious about climate change,” Jarvis adds. He understands climate change is real and that we need to address the issue. But instead of policies like the price on pollution, the government should incentivize the development of technology like carbon capture to grow the economy while fighting climate change, he says."

Climate change is nothing but a buzz word being used by conservatives and yet refuse to put forth any policies or plans to combat it. When confronted on what they would do to combat climate change, the subject is abruptly changed. If young people believe the conservatives will do something to fight climate change, they will be truly disappointed. Conservative have zero interest in climate change and that is very clear looking at any conservative government in power domestically or abroad. In Ontario, Doug Ford is a good example as he paves over prime farm land, destroying the greenbelt and easing up on environmental standards to enrich corrupt developer donors.

Carbon capture is nothing but greenwashing by the oil and gas industry and supported by the conservatives. Both oil and gas and the conservatives know carbon capture will not solve anything.

Preston Manning communicated conflicting messages on the subject of the climate crisis. He did at one MC symposium advocate for a 'carbon levy' to correct the inherent market distortion that is free polluting, although he pleaded with the government to 'not call it a TAX, which conservatives must reflexively oppose'. Yet he kept uttering the mantra that 'it's a private sector problem that requires a private sector solution', ideologically refusing to acknowledge that the public sector has the right to interfere in a sector that has a massively disrupting societal impact. This current organization that is Manning's legacy will probably be an echochamber for those looking for justification for opposing government regulations at all costs, as they promote inherently ecopathic and sociopathic policies for the next CPC regime to adhere to.

A few things are interesting about this article. The renaming of The Manning Centre as "The True North Strong and Free" says a great deal for example. The Manning Centre gave Danielle Smith her start; Preston Manning has perhaps been rewarded for that by being named to review Alberta's Covid Response at a price tag of $253,000. No one should have any doubts as to the massaging that will go on there, in defense of 'Alberta Strong, Free and Opposed to Vaccine Mandates'.

Young Conservatives concerns for Critical Race Theory speaks volumes as well....acknowledging the systemic nature of historical racism is divisive, and coincidentally disallowed in the UCP's new Eurocentric elementary curriculum.

There may be some hope in young conservatives concern about housing....though conservative policies favouring development and attracting big foreign investors isn't going to lead to affordable public housing for anyone, including these young hopefuls.

As to youthful conservatives acknowledging the reality of climate change, that new awareness is undercut by their belief that Carbon Capture is going to do anything other than capture more public resources for an industry using the myth of net 0 to prolong their profitable rip and ship business plans. As the article makes clear: CONSERVATIVES HAVE NO POLICY ON CLIMATE CHANGE....so. in conclusion:

These young idealists need to do a bit of independent research, talk to a few of our economically challenged renters, and perhaps ask American land defenders like BOLD NEBRASKA...what the real effects of Carbon Capture have been south of us. It's another pipedream.....that this time its an asphyxiant CO2, travelling through the pipe to contribute to EOR........enhanced oil recovery......seems irrelevant, once you know who makes big bucks laying those black snakes through other folk's land and watersheds.

As to the real radicals at this True North (aka Manning) conference, give this presenter a boo:
https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/us-strategist-apologizes-joke-prime-min...

I really want to know what these people think of what's happening with the Republicans to the south of us. Canadian conservatives tend to take their cues from American Republicans and the Republican party has become utterly and, perhaps, irredeemably corrupt. Will this be a topic at the conference? Are Canadian conservatives even aware of this? The fact that they want to discuss Critical Race Theory seems to indicate that they're going to just import whatever's fashionable from the US right. This is not good.

Make it fun, huh? Be nice if he could make it not evil to be Conservative.

First off, anyone at a gathering like this talking about CRT being a big issue is obviously raised in the US world of Fox news where everything is a culture war. The fact that the Conservatives do not have a climate policy is not some weird accident, and the carbon tax is a "market solution", which they all hate.

I'm reminded of young Mormon missionaries getting cult training. Get'em while they're young. This is how Poilievre got his start. I read somewhere that he turned to this when he was unable to play hockey apparently, as one does....

If being conservative is fun for these small-minded false christians they obviously have simple tastes and insatiable thirst for deception and lies. Can't call yourself christian when you are not following the teachings of Christ but rather the lies of a false christian in sheep's clothing, spreading bovine excrement to fertilize impressionable challenged minds. When you follow a horses a** watch where you step.