Calgary floods push Conservative convention to the fall

The Conservative Party national policy convention which was scheduled to begin in Calgary next Thursday will be rescheduled in the fall as city officials deal with the floods.

Conservative Party postponed the Calgary convention as city officials deal with the floods

Jason Kenney in Calgary

10 years ago
Duration 6:19
Conservative MP for Calgary South describes the flood recovery effort in his riding

Conservatives are hoping to reschedule their national policy convention for the fall at the earliest, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told CBC News on Sunday.

Kenney who represents the riding of Calgary Southeast said he spoke to Conservative Party president John Walsh on Saturday, who is "hoping it'll happen in the autumn."

"That may be a challenge because Calgary is a busy city for conferences and we are actually typically running close to full occupancy in our hotels here but we'll find a date. We really want to do it this year, hopefully in the autumn as soon as possible," Kenney said.

The Conservative Party national policy convention which was scheduled to get underway in Calgary next Thursday was postponed on Saturday, as city officials warned Calgarians to stay away from the downtown core now engulfed by flood waters.

"Our main concern is for the safety and security of everyone affected," said Michelle Rempel, MP for Calgary Centre – North and Chair of the convention’s Host Committee, in a written statement Saturday afternoon.

"There are neighbourhoods under water, so there is a lot of work we have to do to rebuild," Rempell said adding that "postponing the convention is the right thing to do for the people of Calgary."

In a press conference earlier Saturday, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the city was still in a state of emergency and that "considerable" water remained throughout downtown.

"We're anticipating that we will not be able to restore access to downtown until the earliest in the middle of this week," Nenshi said.

The office for the Minister of National Defence confirmed Saturday afternoon that as of 3 p.m. ET, over 1,200 Canadian Armed Forces members had "now completed their initial deployment to critical areas affected by the flood."

The Forces had been tasked with helping with search and rescue, humanitarian aid, and moving people back into their homes.

"Our military is providing support in the form of helicopters, engineering equipment and logistical assets as well as personnel required for evacuation and delivery of essential materials in Kananaskis Country, High River and Canmore. The CAF will also be providing material assistance, sandbags and sandbag machine, to the City of Medicine Hat," said the National Defence statement.

Convention 'secondary' to safety

Walsh, the president of the Conservative Party, said that holding the convention at this time would not be "in the best interests of the people of Calgary," in a separate statement posted on the party's website.

"At this time the focus needs to be on the safety of Calgarians, and a convention our size with the security it entails could mean taking first responders away from the work they are doing."

"As well, the focus will soon shift to the rebuilding that needs to follow and with Stampede starting soon — a major economic driver for the region — we do not want our convention to interfere in the work that needs to be done to ensure that important event happens," Walsh said.

The party's national council will set out "immediately" to reschedule the biennial convention.

"We will be in touch with a new date as soon as it is confirmed," Walsh said.

In a telephone interview with CBC News Saturday, Rempel couldn't say how soon the convention could be re-scheduled but said the party was committed to holding it in Calgary.

"To be perfectly honest, we won't have any details on when that is going to be until we have a better understanding of what downtown and the clean-up looks like."

Rempel said the Calgary Stampede, which is scheduled to begin on July 5, is also a priority for Calgarians as it is "a major economic driver for the city."

"We'll be getting information from the venue, from hotels on potential availability but for now we're really looking at assisting as much as we can with the recovery efforts and making decisions based on that information," Rempel said.

At least five hotels the Conservative Party had made special arrangements with were already sold out when the party decided to postpone the convention, namely Le Germain, the Calgary Marriott Downtown Hotel, the Hyatt, the Fairmont Palliser and the Delta Bow Valley.

The party postponed the convention in time for those attending to cancel their hotel reservations "within 5 business days prior to the arrival date" as per their agreement with the hotels or risk being charged the room rate and tax for the first night.

The cancellation policy as stated on the party's convention web site said "no exceptions."

Joan Crockatt, Conservative MP for Calgary Centre, said Prime Minister Stephen Harper had already expressed a day earlier that the convention was "secondary" to people's safety.

Harper joined Nenshi and Alberta Premier Alison Redford on Friday to survey the flooding, calling the magnitude of the flood "just extraordinary."

The policy convention was seen as a chance for the Conservatives to hit the reset button after the Senate expenses scandal and the $90,000 cheque Harper's former chief of staff Nigel Wright gave to Senator Mike Duffy – now being investigated by the RCMP – derailed their agenda for the better part of the spring sitting.