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Prime Minister Stephen Harper answers a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Oct. 24, 2013.ADRIAN WYLD/The Canadian Press

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There are signs that the Conservatives may reach a compromise making it possible to lay the Senate expenses scandal to rest, at least for the moment, so that Stephen Harper can focus on trade, taxes and, yes, Senate reform, when he delivers a major speech at the Conservative Party convention on Saturday.

If those signs are false, or if any compromise falls apart at the last minute, then the government's situation could be even more dire a week from now than it is today. But unless passion trumps political calculation, Mr. Harper will move to limit the damage from the Senate expenses scandal, at least as far as the Conservative base is concerned.

That is the most this government can hope for, after the terrible week that was.

When Claude Carignan, the government leader in the Senate, moved to suspend senators Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin for two years, at the very moment that Mr. Harper was concluding a major free-trade agreement with the European Union, he and the government demonstrated unfortunate timing.

The accused senators fought back. Mr. Harper initially had no good answers to NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair's prosecutorial questions in the House. The trade deal was ignored. Worst of all, Conservative Senator Hugh Segal led a spirited campaign against the suspensions, a campaign that appeared to cause at least some Conservative senators to have second thoughts, raising the politically catastrophic possibility that the motion to suspend the senators could be defeated because of a Conservative caucus rebellion.

But cooler heads are conferring. The Senate caucus will meet Monday afternoon. There is word that a compromise might be proposed that would include less draconian punishments for the offending senators – a shorter suspension, perhaps, along with the retention of benefits, though not of pay – accompanied by carefully worded acts of contrition in one or two cases.

Such a scenario would allow the Prime Minister to take the following message to the Conservative Party convention, when it meets in Calgary this weekend:

We're the party that campaigned for Senate reform. We're the party that forced senators to publicly report their expenses. When allegations of misspending arose, we're the party that brought in the auditors, and when solid evidence of wrongdoing emerged, we're the party that punished the offenders. And we're the party that will continue to push for Senate reform and for even tougher rules on spending.

Mr. Harper will then move on to other topics: the all-important trade agreement with Europe – "Canada doesn't get any sexier than this," the Economist magazine enthused about the deal – the government's commitment to balance the budget by 2015 and the promised new round of tax cuts for families with children once that budget is balanced.

He will also talk up the government's past record – previous rounds of tax cuts, tougher penalties for criminals, reforming the immigration system, weathering the recession – while promoting future trade deals in the Pacific to match the one just signed with Europe.

None of that may be enough for those Canadians who are convinced that this government is secretive and mean. But it may be enough for the 30 per cent of Canadians who have stuck by the Conservatives through thick and thin, at least until now.

Then it's a question of persuading the persuadables – those voters who have voted Conservative in the past, who are angry now, but who might be persuaded two years from now to give Mr. Harper another shot.

All of this will mean nothing, however, if any proposed compromise falls apart. Then it won't matter what Mr. Harper says in Calgary.

So keep an eye on what comes out of the Senate caucus meeting Monday. Much could depend on what happens there.

John Ibbitson is the chief political writer in the Ottawa bureau.