Above: Highlights from Stephen Harper’s speech
CALGARY – Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed the ongoing Senate scandal in his speech to fellow Conservatives Friday night, touting his party as the only one that has tried to reform the upper chamber and blaming the courts for blocking his efforts.
But he didn’t address by name any of the senators at the heart of the spending scandal, his former chief of staff Nigel Wright or the circumstances surrounding Wright’s $90,000 payment to Conservative Senator Mike Duffy.
Arriving on stage after greeting the crowd and shaking hands with delegates, Harper told his party members gathered at a convention centre on the Stampede grounds for a three-day convention that it is time for the Senate “to show it can reform itself.”
“This is the only party that has tried to reform the Senate,” he said.
“We were blocked by the other parties in the minority Parliaments and now we are being blocked in the courts,” he said in apparent reference to the recent Quebec Court of Appeal ruling that declared his government’s Senate reform plan unconstitutional.
The reform bill is current before the Supreme Court who will hear arguments later this month.
Harper said a vast majority of Conservative senators want to reform the chamber, and have begun by demanding greater transparency in Senate expenses.
He didn’t specifically name Senators Duffy, Pamela Wallin or Patrick Brazeau, all now officially under RCMP investigation.
“There are a few senators who have collected inappropriate expense reimbursements to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said.
As the Senate is expected to vote on whether to suspend the senators as early next week, Harper went after the Liberals for blocking “the action” in the Senate, even though some in his own party have voiced their opposition to the government’s plan.
WATCH: John Baird introduces PM Harper at the Conservative convention in Calgary
Harper said the Senate should do the right thing and suspend the senators without pay, a remark that garnered huge applause from the audience.
“I expect that people be held accountable for their actions,” he said.
He blamed his political opponents for accusing his party of being “unfair, nasty and ruthless.” Some members of the audience yelled “shame” when Harper said they portrayed offenders as “victims or even martyrs,”
“I couldn’t care less what they say, we will do the right thing,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Ontario Conservative delegate Bill Fehr said he hoped Harper would clearly tell his supporters that he had nothing to do with the scandal surrounding his office.
“It would be nice to clear it up. I’ve said a couple times I hope that this doesn’t become the Canadian Watergate,” he said.
“And it’s got some potential.”
Harper also trumpeted similar themes found in past remarks and his recent throne speech, such as low taxes, the universal child care benefit, tough on crime laws, the federal Accountability Act, immigration policies, natural resource development, and the Canada-European Union trade agreement.
He said his party is in Ottawa to serve Canadians and secure a prosperous country “for our generation, for our children’s, for those unsung Canadians.”
“Those honest, decent, hard-working Canadians, old and new. These are the Canadians for whom we strive, and we in this party won’t ever forget it,” he said.
He also went after the opposition parties on economic policies, asking delegates, “Could (Liberal leader) Justin Trudeau run the economy?” to laughs from the crowd.
WATCH: The West Block’s Tom Clark takes us through a recap of the Conservative Convention in Calgary.
“In 2015, friends, we’re not choosing the winner of Canadian Idol, we’re choosing someone to lead our economy,” he said.
“The only trade policy Justin Trudeau’s been working on is the marijuana trade.”
And while he criticized the NDP for opposing government measures such as crime laws and eliminating the long-gun registry, he never mentioned NDP leader Thomas Mulcair by name.
“The only choice to keep our country and our economy on the right track is this, the Conservative Party of Canada,” he said.
Harper also targeted Ottawa “elites” in his speech and made reference to “ivory tower” visions.
“We didn’t go to Ottawa to join private clubs or become part of some ‘elite,'” he said.
“That’s not who you are; it’s not who we are.”
Conservatives praised the speech, saying they were pleased Harper highlighted the party’s strengths but didn’t shy away from the Senate.
WATCH: Stephen Harper’s full speech from the Conservative convention in Calgary
“It’s a friendly room,” said Albert Pubantz, a delegate from Edmonton.
“It highlighted what the party has done for a lot of years, what they’re going to plan to do in the future. And I think he actually did address the Senate issue.”
John Mykytyshyn of Ancaster, Ont. called the speech “well-balanced.”
“You listen to that speech, you totally get how he got to prime minister and you listen to that, you can’t see how we have anybody else who’s going to take it away from him.”
And 78-year-old Dave Greeves of Cranbrook, B.C. said Harper talked to the party’s strengths, such as the economy and law and order.
“He talked about our accomplishments, and I liked the fact that he didn’t totally shy away from the Senate which is sensitive,” he said.
“The Senate is not a major thing with me. I think we need to reform it and I think the activities of some of their members – it’s going to cause us to reform it.
“It’s going to make the nation want to reform it.”