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The new Conservatives: fun, fashion and fiscal responsibility

Pat Carney is an author and a former federal Conservative minister and senator. She lives on Saturna Island, B.C.

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I went to the Conservative convention in Vancouver this past weekend seeking clues to the party's future. Red or blue? Code words for a party historically split between progressives and social conservatives.

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Instead, I found the party faithful celebrating a new brand of fun, fashion and fiscal responsibility – not normally associated with Conservative values under Brian Mulroney or Stephen Harper.

It was a relaxed, family-friendly affair enjoyed by 3,000 engaged delegates who apparently weren't mad at anybody.

No recriminations about the loss of the federal election seven months ago. No distancing by party leaders of the sour politics of the Harper era. Few attacks (except by Kevin O'Leary) of the debt-bloated Liberal agenda.

Now a lapsed party member, I am a veteran of Tory conventions. As an MP, I co-chaired the leadership review of Joe Clark and the subsequent leadership convention that elected Mr. Mulroney in 1983. Our election team was too busy kneecapping John Crosbie's Newfoundland roughies and Brian Mulroney's Quebec ruffians, jostling for leadership, to have fun, fun, fun.

In 2004, friend and former cabinet colleague Barbara McDougall and I enjoyed mani-pedicures in her Toronto apartment before attending the newly created Conservative Party of Canada convention to wave placards and chant "BelinDA, BelinDA" because, as we told successful leadership candidate Stephen Harper, if women didn't vote for leadership contender Belinda Stronach, who would?

At last weekend's convention, interim leader Rona Ambrose headlined the "Back to Blue" plenary session wearing a white jacket and shirt, slim-legged black leather pants and long dangling earrings. She walked on stage in open-toed strapped sandals with spike heels, exposing red-painted toenails. Top that, Justin.

We won't be chanting "RonA, RonA" at the 2017 Conservative leadership convention because as interim leader Ms. Ambrose can't run to replace Mr. Harper.

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Her partner, J.P. Veitch, whom Ms. Ambrose introduced as a former bull rider, made a fleeting appearance on stage with his hands in his pockets, wearing a "Stornoway Pool Boy" T-shirt, although Ms. Ambrose, tossing her beautiful mane of hair, acknowledged there was no swimming pool at the Opposition Leader's official residence.

Jason Kenney, wearing an open-necked shirt, made his opening remarks in French. Check him as a candidate for leader. Mr. O'Leary, who told delegates he is officially a party member, is clearly running for finance minister.

The "Back to Blue" session was very inclusive, from the superb Asian drummers who opened the event to speakers championing everything from energy pipelines to the rights of hunters and anglers wielding long guns and fishing rods who argued "to love the earth, conserve habitat."

There was little discussion of the burning matters of the day except for the issue of jobs, jobs, jobs and the need for conservative values in government.

Former federal minister and Blue Tory Stockwell Day, wearing a pink tie, acknowledged that he received a stipend for his occasional appearances on CBC Television talk shows. Delegates didn't boo. They laughed.

The event was staged to present both declared and possible leadership contenders through adroit questions.

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Asked what things the audience didn't know about them, Ontario's Kellie Leitch, wearing a trim black-and-white dress and taupe pumps, revealed she plays the saxophone. Quebec's Maxime Bernier declared he runs marathons, recently for a food bank in his riding. Michael Chong reported that his first language is Dutch (his mother is Dutch, his father Chinese).

Asked where Parliament should be moved if the debt-ridden Liberals had to mortgage the Hill, Ontario MP Lisa Raitt, goddess-like in her long sheath and tasselled high-heeled sandals, lobbied for her Cape Breton childhood home.

New ideas from MPs included a video performance featuring "rap debates," Facebook tutorials, and a program called FRESH (an acronym for the party's founding principles: rights of the individual, environmental values, social responsibility and health care).

The party's future may depend on who is elected leader in 2017. In the meantime, I may renew my Conservative Party membership. Finally, being a Conservative may be fun!

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