Beaming Harper greets caucus, but can internal wrangles be far off?
OTTAWA -- A healthy dose of post-election gloating, an injection of Canucks fever, and perhaps delirium from the lack of air conditioning on Parliament Hill made Wednesday's Conservative caucus meeting one of the most cheerful in memory.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper beamed as he introduced each of the 37 new Tory MPs to their colleagues and to a crowd of reporters in the steamy room. Several British Columbian MPs sweated away underneath Canucks jerseys.
There were whoops of glee when Harper presented the MP, Bernard Trottier, who had beaten Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff in his own Toronto riding.
Andrew Scheer, a contender for the job of Speaker of the House of Commons, hovered near the doorway shaking hands with MPs who entered.
But the collegiality and jubilation will almost certainly give way to the kind of cliques and camps that are only natural for a large majority caucus.
With the opposition no longer a constant threat to the government's future, Conservative MPs will be free to have their own internal debates on points of policy. That was the case with the Liberal party in its glory days, when cabinet ministers jockeyed behind the scenes over budget funding, major pieces of legislation and profile.
The Tory party's grassroots will also have the opportunity to delve deeper into points of policy and administration, following years focused almost exclusively on electoral readiness. Some Conservatives in Quebec are upset over what they saw as a half-hearted campaign in the province, resulting in half their MPs being defeated May 2.
Harper is already dealing with disagreement in caucus about the Conservative party's constitution.
Sources say Harper spoke to the caucus meeting about a resolution Ontario MP Scott Reid is bringing to the floor of the Conservative convention next week.
Harper told MPs that the issue should be dealt with openly and fairly by party members, and appealed for a civil debate.
Reid would like to alter a key party rule that assigns all riding associations an equally weighted vote in a leadership race, moving it closer to a one-member, one-vote system.
That's raised the ire of party co-founder and Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who says the rule was a "deal breaker'' issue during the merger of the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance. He has argued that it shouldn't be allowed to make it onto the convention floor because of its divisive nature.
Environment Minister Peter Kent said he was willing to hear suggestions for a compromise, but fundamentally supports the current system.
"It allows the very different parts and regions of the country (to be represented) -- we have it in the Senate, we have it in Parliament, we have it in terms of British North America Act guarantees with regards to representation, and I think that it has worked, if perhaps imperfectly when you get down to hard numbers and statistical representation,'' said Kent.
"Barring an option three that is really appealing, I would tend to go with the status quo.''
Harper is also likely to face pressure within caucus over the awarding of lucrative shipbuilding contracts. Three cities -- Halifax, Vancouver, and Levis, Que. -- are vying for two of three contracts worth a total $33 billion, and MPs from those areas will be pushing hard on behalf of their regions.
For the moment, Harper is revelling in his party's newfound strength in the Commons. He declared that politics have shifted and that "Conservative values are Canadian values and ... the Conservative party is Canada's party.''
Harper even lapsed into a bit of nostalgia as he recalled his first day as an MP back in 1993, calling it inspiring and humbling.
"What a privilege it is for all us Members of Parliament to have such a role in building this magnificent country, our Canada. Remember always these things about our country. Its history is greater than our individual achievements. Its future is more promising than our political careers...It is the place where people of all cultures come from the world over to live in freedom, democracy and justice together,'' Harper said.
"Let the memory of our first day as members of Parliament continue to inspire us all. Even more, let it keep us humble in the service of our country.''
The Commons is expected to sit for only two to three weeks. First order of business Thursday will be the election of a Speaker.
The speech from the throne, the first for Gov. Gen. David Johnston, is scheduled for Friday. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will hand down the budget Monday.
The budget will mostly duplicate the document he delivered earlier in the spring, with a few changes, including a provision to phase out per-vote subsidies for political parties.