Conservative delegates hope party can get ‘over the garbage with the Senate’ expenses scandal, looking to PM's keynote speech Friday night for next move
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- Created: Friday, 01 November 2013 16:54
- Published: Friday, 01 November 2013 16:54
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The Senate troubles are on delegates’ minds as the Conservative Party policy convention kicks off in Calgary, but delegates are looking to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s keynote speech on Friday night for guidance and for hope.
By LAURA RYCKEWAERT
CALGARY, ALTA.—The Conservative Party policy convention in Calgary which began Oct. 31 with Conservatives from across the country arriving to participate in the party’s last policy convention before the next federal election expected in 2015, but even thousands of miles from Ottawa, the party’s troubles with the Senate expenses scandal aren’t far from delegates’ minds.
“I’d like to hope that we can get over the garbage with the Senate. Apart from that it would be good to get a good solid agreed-to policy that we can go into the next election with, and I think we will,” one delegate told The Hill Times, a member of the Ottawa West-Nepean, Ont., electoral district association who asked not to be named.
The Conservative Party said it expects 3,000 people to attend this year’s convention, which is set to officially begin on Nov. 1, beginning with a speech from outgoing party president John Walsh. In the evening on Nov. 1, Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) will deliver his keynote address to the convention.
On Oct. 31, delegates and MPs from across the country arrived at the BMO Centre to register and to meet up. Candidates for the party’s upcoming national council election, to take will take place on Nov. 2, set up tables along the hallways surrounding the main registration room. The party was selling cowboy hats with the Conservative Party’s logo and many delegates were sporting them along with those delegates who were wearing their own. The Hill Times spotted a few fiddlers, and even one banjo player, roaming the halls were delegates registered, adding to the atmosphere.
“It’s surprising that this is the first ever convention that the party’s held in Alberta, so I think the Alberta ridings are very proud,” said Chad Rogers, a partner at Crestview Strategy in Ottawa. “This is a family reunion. …There’s a lot of people I’ve seen in the last three hours I only see every two years or so at one of these.”
But despite the usual buzz of excitement and anticipation that can be felt at the start of any party convention, Mr. Rogers said the Conservative Party’s troubles in the Senate are on people’s minds.
“I think everyone’s a little sheepish, a little embarrassed and a little angry, and I think that there’ll be lots of discussion of that at the corridors and maybe even on the microphones. I think they blame some of the bad people who have done a bad thing like Duffy; certainly there’s lots of grumble about it. But it’s not the talk of the convention,” said Mr. Rogers.
Mark Preston, a past president of the Burlington, Ont. riding association, said about 10 people have come all the way to Calgary from Burlington and said, “everyone’s in a good mood.” Asked about the party’s troubles in the Senate, Mr. Preston said, “people are talking about it. I had lunch with someone and he brought it up, but he was more interested in talking about what he considered to be larger issues like the new European free trade agreement and the positives,” said Mr. Preston.
“I think, yeah, it’s definitely damaging the party, there’s no doubt about it. Anytime you have Conservatives fighting Conservatives it’s not good for the party, mistakes were made on all sides in my opinion,” he said.
Mr. Preston said he’s “not particularly” happy with how Mr. Harper has handled the problems that have arisen from the Senate, but said overall, “I don’t think anyone’s coming out smelling like roses on this.”
The delegate from Ottawa West-Nepean, who formerly worked as a public servant for the government, said he thinks the Prime Minister has done “as well as he could under the circumstances,” and said one fellow delegate he discussed the issue agreed with him that the issue is “a media storm that’s grossly overblown.”
Eric Sykes, president of the Delta Richmond East, B.C. riding association, said conventions are a good way to meet people and to discuss the various problems that face electoral district associations.
“I’m a riding association president and we have the usual problems of keeping our memberships active and keeping donors, giving us money and keeping good people wanting to join our board so we exchange war stories with each other as to what has worked and what hasn’t worked … so I pick up tips here,” said Mr. Sykes.
Mr. Sykes said it “hasn’t been a great couple of weeks” for the party, but said he thinks the federal Conservative government has done “a lot of good things over the last several years”—such as reducing the size of the civil service—and said he’s hoping to hear progress reports and more on the positive things the government has accomplished. But Mr. Sykes said he is “greatly” concerned about what’s going on in the Senate.
“It greatly concerns me because fortunately we’re two years away from an election, but it’s the kind of damaging stuff that voters remember and I think it’s harmful to the popularity of the party, a lot of people don’t follow it in the great detail that some of us political junkies do, but they know that some people have been accused of wrongdoing, and wasting taxpayers money and its on the Conservatives’ watch, and by the way its Conservative Senators who have been identified, there’s some Liberals, but I think it’s been very harmful to the party,” said Mr. Sykes.
Mr. Rogers said he expects Mr. Harper’s keynote speech on Nov. 1 will be a “bookend” to the Throne Speech, but a “more partisan” version, and Mr. Rogers said he thinks Prime Minister Harper will “probably” acknowledge the Senate expense scandal in his speech.
“The next big thing we’re going to do together is the 2015 campaign, so everything here today is laying out first blocks in that strategic plan to tell us how to go back to our ridings and run the next campaign, so I’m looking for all the clues he’s revealing to us about what the next campaign is about, how he wants us to fight the next campaign,” said Mr. Rogers.
“I think he probably will [mention the Senate in his speech]. I think he has to acknowledge that some people are upset and that people who were once involved in our party didn’t live up to the standard we set for them.”
Meanwhile, media attending the convention expressed frustration over restrictions on access to delegates. While media were permitted access to the delegate registration area for approximately 15 minutes in the late afternoon, reporters and cameras were otherwise restricted to one hallway away from the main registration area and instead many resorted to camping out outside by the main entrance doors as delegates and other attendees arrived.
On Nov. 1, policy and constitutional workshops are being held to discuss the proposed resolutions, which will be voted on by the plenary on Nov. 2, and sessions of electoral district fundraising and the 10-year federal electoral redistribution are also being held.