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The Conservative Party is heading west for its convention, one that will set the stage for the 2015 federal election campaign even as the Senate scandal continues to hang over Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government.
The three-day convention, delayed since June by flooding, will begin Thursday on the Calgary Stampede grounds, with organizers stressing "Western wear welcome!" in Mr. Harper's home city. The Conservatives will elect a new national council to lead it through the next election, and will consider policy proposals from members and any amendments to the party's constitution.
But Alberta MP James Rajotte, who co-chairs the convention's host committee, acknowledges the scandal over Senate spending – and the government's subsequent attempts to suspend senators Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin – will dominate hallway chatter among delegates arriving in Calgary.
"I think there's frustration with the Senate itself, with the fact it's hard to deal with this," Mr. Rajotte said in an interview. "The support for [Senate] abolition is increasing, even in Alberta where [Senate] reform is very popular. But there's general consensus that they don't want the Senate to continue on as it is."
The convention also comes after the release of Canada's revised electoral maps, and the party has committed to open nomination battles. It means incumbent MPs and prospective candidates alike are already jockeying for position, and the national gathering of the party's top members will be a key venue to push for support. In one convention session, delegates will be shown the details of the new map boundaries. Mr. Rajotte said there could be more jockeying during the convention in ridings without an incumbent MP.
The federal convention is sandwiched between those of Alberta's two provincial conservative parties. The Wildrose held its convention last weekend, where it dropped some of its controversial policies in a bid to shift toward the middle of the political spectrum. Early discussion, however, hasn't suggested any similar policy reversals could be in store for the federal Conservatives.
"The policy discussions I've seen have been very much in line with what we've seen in the past," Mr. Rajotte said.
The floods that hit Southern Alberta forced the convention to be postponed, days before it had been set to begin. The agenda hasn't changed over the four-month delay, Mr. Rajotte said. "Other than it'll be a little colder in Calgary, we'll go ahead," he said, adding a message to delegates: "I hope they come in ready to discuss and debate policy."
Among the policies up for debate is a push to change the leadership-selection process to give more clout to ridings with bigger memberships. The Conservatives have rejected the proposal in the past, sticking with a system where each riding is given equal weight, forcing leadership hopefuls to build broad support nationally.
Other party proposals include cutting funding to the CBC; moving away from protectionist supply-management policies; investing in Canada's North; weakening the power of unions; and calling for openness and transparency in the review process on foreign takeovers.
The convention mixes policy discussions with a series of more light-hearted events. B.C. MP John Weston will lead a run-and-walk through Calgary on Saturday morning, the convention's final day. Alberta MP Blake Richards will lead a tour of Banff National Park, a fundraiser for flood relief.
The sessions include courses on "growing your donor base," and policy workshops on economic development, foreign affairs, the "role of government, taxation and crime" and "Canada's social fabric." Up to 10 delegates can attend from each riding, and registration fees range from $475 to $1,050, though attendees are issued tax receipts for much of the fee.
Josh Wingrove is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa.