Harper to delegates: ‘I couldn’t care less what they say, we will do the right thing’
By Patrick Vaillancourt, News Editor
Members of the Conservative Party of Canada descended on Calgary from October 31 to November 2 for the party’s national convention—planning for a federal election that’s now less than two years away. The Conservative Party convention comes amidst new revelations in the Senate expense scandal, which has seriously damaged the credibility of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Harper has been bombarded with opposition questions since Parliament returned last month, and has offered public support for a motion that would see Senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, and Patrick Brazeau—all Harper appointees—suspended without pay for their roles in the Senate expenses scandal.
The government had hoped that the motion to suspend the senators would have been wrapped up prior to the convention, but Senate debates on the motion have made a quick vote impossible.
The prime minister, in his keynote address to the convention, placed the blame for Senate delays related to the motions to suspend Duffy, Wallin, and Brazeau squarely on his political opponents. Harper suggested that the opposition parties are portraying the senators at the heart of the scandal as “victims or even martyrs,” as they try to discredit the prime minister’s version of events.
“I don’t care what they [the opposition parties] say, we will do the right thing,” said Harper in reference to his government’s move to suspend the senators.
The convention had been previously scheduled for the spring, but needed to be postponed in the wake of massive flooding in Calgary and surrounding communities. The unity within the Tory ranks, which was evident during the catastrophic flooding in Alberta, has seemingly been washed away as division within the Conservative caucus becomes more apparent.
Even party elders, such as former prime minister Joe Clark, are calling on Harper to be forthcoming with everything he knows about the Senate scandal.
“Right now, I think he has to bring people into the facts,” said Clark, who was interviewed by the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge. “And I think he needs to tell the real story and I think he needs to seek some advice as to what’s the most effective way to do that.”
The Conservative caucus has been divided recently over some heated rhetoric related to the Senate expenses scandal, particularly the character and professional conduct of Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright. Wright has admitted to issuing a cheque of over $90,000 to Senator Mike Duffy, who had been ordered to repay inappropriate expense claims.
The prime minister has been harsh with the rhetoric recently in an effort to get past the scandal, which has brought chaos to his government’s message planning. Harper pointed the blame directly at Wright last week during Question Period in the House of Commons.
“On our side, there is one person responsible for this deception and that person is Mr. Wright,” Harper said in response to opposition questions in the House of Commons.
Despite the hard line the prime minister has taken toward his former chief of staff, prominent Conservative members have spoken publicly in support of Nigel Wright. Alberta Conservative MP James Rajotte characterized Wright as a friend and “an exemplary character.”
Minister of Employment and Social Development Jason Kenney also spoke glowingly of the former chief of staff: “I know Nigel Wright to be a person of good faith, of competence, with high ethical standards,” Kenney said to the Calgary Herald.
Other high profile Conservatives have offered kind words to Wright, including Justice Minister Peter MacKay.
The RCMP is investigating all of the senators, and recently announced their preliminary findings into Senator Pamela Wallin’s expenses, saying that they believe the evidence supports allegations of fraud and breach of trust.