Flooding could force Tories to cancel Calgary convention

OTTAWA – Federal Conservatives may be forced to cancel a national party convention that’s supposed to take place in flood-drenched Calgary next week.

Party president John Walsh has sent a note to delegates, saying the party is monitoring the crisis that has devastated dozens of communities in Calgary and southern Alberta.

He says the party will be in touch with “various authorities close to the situation” over the weekend and will update delegates on Monday.

Conservative sources say postponing the June 27-29 convention is an option.

Party brass must consider not just whether the city can handle the influx of some 2,000 delegates, but also whether Calgary residents will be in any mood for a purely partisan event while they grapple with the devastation.

Calgary being his hometown, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s assessment of the situation will likely play a key role in the decision. Harper flew into Calgary on Friday to view the damage first hand.

The party has billed the convention as “an unforgettable gathering of our Conservative family” and a “special homecoming for a part of the country that has done so much for our young party.”

But the excitement and partisan hoopla that normally surrounds a political convention could be hard to manufacture — and may prove unwelcome to local residents — in the aftermath of the flooding crisis.

“Personally, I don’t want to be making decisions on that right now,” said Edmonton MP James Rajotte, co-chairman of the convention’s host committee.

“Right now, I think people are just dealing with it on a kind of personal, human level.”

Rajotte said the party is waiting to see the full extent of the damage before making any decisions about whether to proceed with the convention.

“Unless you’re there, it’s hard to get a full appreciation for it … I mean hotels, you don’t know what condition they’re in.”

The Calgary convention centre, where the gathering is slated to take place, is located in the downtown core, much of which was under water Friday and without power.

Hotels closest to the convention centre were sold out for the three-day Tory gathering but it was far from clear whether they would be able to accommodate a multitude of delegates.

Lionel Houliat, general manager of Le Germain, said his hotel was fully functional, with running water and power provided by a generator. While some downtown roads were closed, some guests were able to check out and make it to the airport, he said.

But even as Houliat confidently predicted his hotel would be back to normal by the time the Tory convention gets underway Thursday, the Hyatt was in the process of being evacuated just a couple of blocks away.

A receptionist at the nearby Fairmont Palliser said the hotel was not under evacuation order. Nevertheless, she said it was struggling to deal with “upset guests” and the immediate fallout from the flooding, and too busy to discuss the upcoming convention.