4 hot topics with Conservative Party members
While everyone else is talking about the Senate scandal, Conservative delegates are looking ahead
While many Canadians can't get enough of the Senate scandal, Conservative Party delegates meeting this weekend in Calgary say they are talking about other issues. Here are four things on their minds.
1. The economy
It was the first policy point Prime Minister Stephen Harper mentioned in his speech Friday night, and it's a point the Conservative Party members say is getting overlooked amid the Senate controversy.
"I feel that the party has done a good job of managing the economy and it's kept Canada very strong," said Craig Sweetnam, a delegate from Carleton-Mississippi-Mills, Ont.
"I have great confidence in Harper. I think he has a very good eye on the economy in keeping Canada strong and I think he sees [the Senate scandal], like a lot of us, as a distraction.
John Ross, a delegate from Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, Ont., said he's pleased Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has announced the budget will be balanced by 2015.
"I thnk Mr. Harper's doing a great job and I like Mr. Flaherty very, very much," he said.
2. Liberal scandals
Probe too closely about how delegates feel over the Senate scandal or the alleged involvement of Harper's office, and they'll compare the amount of questionable expenses claimed by Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin to other controversies.
"I think the whole thing is completely overblown. When you think they're talking about $90,000 from Duffy when Ontario's wasted a billion dollars on power plants, it's chump change. That's all it is," Roy Cummings said.
Some delegates reached back to the last federal Liberal government.
"Well, I guess one could say the Liberals have had billions of dollars in scandal and the media's all hepped out about a $90,000 issue. Obviously those that have done wrong, we need to get rid of, because good Conservatives don't believe in that kind of stuff," said Ron Dancey, president of the Cambridge, Ont., riding association.
"The amount of money we're dealing with here is one day of Liberal scandals. And we've paid most of the money back."
3. More transparency
Journalists at the convention are barred from moving freely with delegates and got just a few minutes to circulate where candidates for the party's executive were set up to pitch themselves for election.
It's something many delegates and even political staff said they don't understand.
"I think the party overall needs to be more open about what they're doing and, you know, open up more to questions. Just be upfront with Canadians... if you're doing anything else, then it creates suspicion," said Adam Rodgers, a delegate from Cape Breton-Canso, NS.
"I think if they take that new approach then Canadians would feel reassured that there's a steady hand in charge... There is a strong undercurrent of people that would like the party to be more open to Canadians about what they're up to."
Some members also said they would have preferred Harper speak more openly about the Senate scandal sooner, rather than in the past two weeks. They argue the controversy could have been smaller had that happened.
Roy Eappen, a delegate from Montreal, disagreed, at least when it comes to opening the doors to preliminary policy discussions. All federal parties hold closed-door sessions ahead of a full plenary to decide policy.
"I think with the media there people would be more restrained in what they say" in some of the policy debates, Eappen said.
4. Where's the party?
Aside from deciding the party's direction for the next two years, delegates gather to catch up and find out what colleagues and friends have been up to, said Dan Mader, a former Conservative Party staffer and delegate from Ottawa.
"These are people who know each other from campaigns and conventions past," he said.
Part of that involves heading out to the hospitality suites following the policy sessions. The events are judged based on what kind of food and drinks are served — and whether it's an open or cash bar.
Many delegates will head to the Fabulous Blue Tent, an event hosted by a number of gay Conservatives. Another popular option is Flaherty's Taste of the Irish, which Labour Minister Kellie Leitch is co-hosting this year. Insiders say it's like a mobile St. Patrick's day party, complete with Guinness.