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‘I hope that this doesn’t become the Canadian Watergate’: Senate scandal overtakes the Conservative convention

Video: Rumblings from Conservative faithful about Harper’s future & how he handled Senate spending scandal.Jacques Bourbeau reports

CALGARY – Bill Fehr, an accountant and member of the Conservative party for more than 40 years, wants to hear about the so-called Senate expense scandal when the man at the top addresses his party tonight – Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself.

“I’d like to hear him clearly tell all of us that he had nothing to do with it,” said Fehr, a delegate from Elgin-Middlesex-London, Ont.

“I’ve said a couple times I hope that this doesn’t become the Canadian Watergate. And it’s got some potential.”

The Senate – and most of all what the Conservatives need to do about it – is on the lips of many at the party’s policy convention, as more than 3,000 delegates gather in a convention hall on the city’s Stampede grounds.

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LIve coverage: Conservative convention in Calgary

Conservative cabinet minister Maxime Bernier told La Presse Friday he is calling for a national referendum on Senate abolition in the spring of 2014. But the point man on the Senate issue, Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre, said Thursday the government has no plans for one.

Fehr agrees the issue should be put to the test by the Canadian public.

“I think we should. We haven’t had enough of a voice in it as individuals. I shouldn’t say it’s too important for the government to handle, but it would be very nice if they came back to us and actually asked the people in this country what we want with the Senate,” he said.

“I don’t know if it’s worth saving. My view of the Senate – it’s pretty harsh – I just think it’s an extension of feeding at the trough and I can’t see what they accomplish really.”

He said his fellow Conservatives back in Ontario are “more than upset” about the current scandal surrounding Conservative appointees senators Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau.

“They’re almost enraged about they way it’s going on. And the people that I talk to there tend to feel that this is only the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

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Fehr says he believes the prime minister’s versions of events about the Senate so far, but he still doesn’t sound 100 per cent confident in his leader.

“I think it’s not unreasonable to assume that maybe he didn’t know everything that was going on and I would lean to believing his explanation more than others,” he said.

“So far I think he’s probably done the best he could dealing with it. And it’s funny that it was our party that wanted to get rid of the Senate years ago and for so many years he didn’t even appoint senators and then all of a sudden because we’re in power long enough and he did start using the system that was in place. But it seems our Conservative senators are the ones that are under the light right now.”

As Conservative MPs arrived at the convention Friday morning, they said they’re hearing that the upper chamber must change.

But they stopped short of supporting the call for a referendum.

“My constituents are all over the map on this, there’s lot of varying opinions,” said Prince Albert, Sask. MP Randy Hoback.

“I come from Saskatchewan where the premier wants to abolish it, there’s some people that want to reform. I think they’d all say that the status quo is not on, that’s one thing that would be in common.”

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Hoback said it’s best to wait for the Supreme Court ruling before urging a consultation process.

“That always sounds good, and it sounds like that something people would be in favour of. But in the same breath, the Senate’s an established institution for quite a few years so we’ll have to see how it settles out and what the court will allow us to actually do.”

Albert MP Ted Menzies said his constituents want to see the Senate change in one way or another.

“We’ve talked about this as a party for a long time,” he said.

“There’s a lot of talk about if they aren’t willing to accept reform then the other alternative is to get rid of it. Most of my constituents that are talking to me, they want to see it reformed. It’s dysfunctional right now and they’re not happy with it.”

As for Fehr, he doesn’t believe the current debacle started at the top in the prime minister’s office, but with the senators themselves.

“I think it’s flowed from the Senate with their sense of entitlement,” he said.

“We should come down very hard on people that break the rules and spend our hard tax dollars without answering for it. And that really angers me.”

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