OTTAWA – Conservative Party members have descended on Ottawa for a three-day conference that began Thursday night with rounds of speeches poking fun at the opposition, the media and even the Senate page who interrupted the throne speech by striding onto the floor holding a sign demanding Prime Minister Stephen Harper be stopped.
Minutes into former minister Stockwell Day’s address to the roughly 2,000 people gathered at the Ottawa Convention Centre, his wife Valerie strode onto the stage holding a red stop sign with the words “We Love Harper.”
The bit of political theatre showcased the party’s arrogantly victorious mood as it headed into a policy weekend just weeks after winning its coveted majority government, taking 166 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons.
The campaign catchphrase “strong stable Conservative majority government” made its way into every single speech, as did jibes at the new Opposition _ the New Democrats.
Master of ceremonies Stephen Blaney, who is the veterans’ affairs minister, joked that he was one of the only Quebec MPs who didn’t need a map to find his riding _ a poke at all the fresh-faced New Democrat MPs who, in at least one case, had never been to the riding in which they were elected.
But Day suggested digs at the NDPers should no longer be de rigeur in Parliament and called for a return to civility in the House, including from the media.
The now elder statesman also cautioned that the cocksure attitude doesn’t mean the election victory can be taken for granted.
“We have to earn the right to have those votes,” Day said.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney suggested in his speech that the party had more than earned the right, taking delegates through each step the party took to win its majority.
He said only the Conservatives were truly in touch with Canadian values and celebrated the taking of Toronto-area ridings as proof.
But, he too said the party must be careful as it proceeds.
“Someone will ask, what did Conservatives do with our majority in 2011,” he said.
“Let us make sure that it is said we seized the opportunity, that we kept Canadians trust.”
The convention began hours after the auditor general issued a damning report saying the Harper government had misled Canadians on how billions of dollars for the G8 and G20 meetings in Ontario last year was spent.
The opening ceremonies paid tribute to all the Conservative MPs who failed to recapture their seats in the May 2 vote.
One of the main issues up for debate at the convention is the method by which the party will choose its next leader.
Two camps have emerged, one backing a system that would allocate the same weight to riding associations regardless of how big they are, while the second advocates a system where associations with more members would get more say.
MPs heading into the convention were split on which way they’d like to see the vote go, with some suggesting that the issue as a whole isn’t a big deal.
But for the party’s Quebec members, there is some concern that a move to a weighted system will shut them out from a meaningful role in choosing the next leader, as membership in that party is low.
Harper was to address the convention on Friday evening.