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A worker polishes the podium in preparation Prime Minister Stephen Harper's speech later in the day at the Conservative convention in Calgary, Friday, Nov. 1, 2013. (Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
A worker polishes the podium in preparation Prime Minister Stephen Harper's speech later in the day at the Conservative convention in Calgary, Friday, Nov. 1, 2013. (Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Senate a touchy subject at Conservative convention Add to ...

Lynne Roberts has seen little talk of the Senate scandal at the Conservative convention – just the odd joke here and there.

“The media has expected there to be a real outrage and a storm, and I’m from Manitoba and I can tell you there’s been none of that. We don’t feel this is our fault, or the Prime Minister’s fault – the Senate situation,” said Ms. Roberts, one of the throngs of delegates attending the Conservative convention in Calgary. During policy discussions, she added, “people have addressed [the Senate] indirectly, and they’ve done it through humour.”

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It’s nonetheless a subject she expects to hear about Friday night, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes the stage for his keynote address to the convention. But she hopes he focuses on the other accomplishments, too, of his government at a time when the opposition hopes to pin the Senate scandal on Mr. Harper.

“Let’s hope he survives. I don’t think there’s a risk, but that’s what the opposition hopes to do. They hope to bring him down. And other Prime Ministers have been brought down on less. But so many other things are going well, that it’s just kind of an inconvenience,” said Ms. Roberts, a delegate from the riding of Winnipeg South, adding: “I’ve seen him a couple times. And I’ll tell you, he’s very comfortable in Calgary.”

Party delegates continued to debate policy amendments Friday leading up to the convention’s keynote speech from Mr. Harper. Cabinet minister Tony Clement shrugged off questions about whether delegates expect the Senate scandal to be addressed.

“We’re going to have a great speech from the Prime Minister tonight, we’re all looking forward to it,” Mr. Clement said, unwilling to hazard a guess at what the speech could include. “I think we’ll let the Prime Minister speak for himself. He’s very good at that.”

Tony Wallbank, a delegate from Woodstock, Ont., wants a mea culpa from Mr. Harper on the Senate saga.

“I’d like him to emphatically state the appointing of senators isn’t the way for him to have gone. To basically apologize for the way the Senate appointments and cronyism continued under his watch. Then I want him to say that he is determined to either reform the Senate with the co-operation of the provinces, or to disband it altogether,” said Mr. Wallbank, who nonetheless said the Senate questions haven’t dampened the mood of the “extremely supportive” delegates at the convention.

“[There’s] many great things that we’ve done in the last six years to help this country. And we’re just really at the beginning reforming some of the terrible things that are happening. Say, aboriginal homes in the country not having running water, things like that. These are things that are going to be addressed, and I’m very enthusiastic about seeing changes for the better,” he said.

He still admires Mr. Harper, and said the Senate scandal could provide an opportunity to finally change the institution. “It has only made us more determined to change things,” he said. “This is an excellent opportunity to really make good, progressive changes in the Senate.”

Convention volunteer Anthony Barnes says the responsibility for the Senate saga lies with Mr. Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright.

“Somebody does good things for you, but what do they do behind your back? That’s exactly what happened to the Prime Minister,” said Mr. Barnes, who lives near Langdon, Alta., east of Calgary. “I think [Mr. Harper is] hurt, he’s very hurt, because somebody stabbed him in the back. Like a horse whip, OK? Because he did not know at that time that this was happening....He’s going to insist that he did not do it and it is not his fault.”

Not all attendees are firm backers of Mr. Harper. Another delegate, Joe Gingrich, was hoping to speak to Mr. Harper during the convention about repealing Bill C-68, firearms legislation introduced in 1995 by the Liberals which Mr. Gingrich says threatens gunowner rights.

“I’d like for him to resign. He’s not doing what he’s supposed to do,” Mr. Gingrich said. Mr. Gingrich welcomed some Conservative moves in government, such as ending the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly, but said Mr. Harper has failed to deliver on other pledges, though Mr. Gingrich is sticking with the party.

“If you quit the party, you can only speak from the outside,” he said, later adding: “To work for Stephen Harper, it’s hard for me to do that, the way he’s been treating us.”

Mr. Harper is set to take the stage around 6 p.m. local time Friday evening. The convention wraps up Saturday.

Get live updates from the Conservative Party convention by following @josh_wingrove, @johnibbitson, @stevenchase and @globepolitics on Twitter

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