Is the media distracted by the Senate scandal?

The Canadian Press photo'It's the media that is distracted by the Senate scandal.'

That seems to be the position, at least, of Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan who addressed reporters on Thursday about his government's accomplishments in the fall session of Parliament.

"I think there's a deep recognition the priority for this government has been the economy, continues to be the economy," he said, when asked about the Senate scandal being a distraction.

"And while the media may be distracted by sensational events elsewhere, we have stayed on track. We're on track to get the budget balanced on schedule in 2015. We continue to post the strongest economic growth and job creation growth among the major developed economies.

"The country stays on course economically and, I think, Canadians recognize that that is what is happening here in Ottawa regardless of what may be on the entertainment television."

Van Loan went on to list several of his government's accomplishments this Fall, including the passing of budget Bill C-4, which, he says, will extend a hiring credit for small businesses, freeze employment insurance rates and improve the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

The government, Van Loan noted, also passed the First Nations Elections Act, the Canadian Museum of History Act and introduced the Northwest Territories Devolution Act.

[ Related: Conservatives get break from Senate scandal as House adjourns ]

Certainly, the economy is an important, if not the most important, ballot box issue in any election.

But if Van Loan really believes that Canadians aren't paying attention to the Senate scandal — that it's the pesky media who are propagating the story — then he's drinking the Conservative party Kool-Aid.

Since the start of the fall session in October, stories of the Senate shenanigans have dominated news headlines. They dominated headlines because voters care.

The public cares that staffers at the Prime Minister's Office are alleged to have been involved in a scheme to gift a sitting legislator $90,000 and then cover it up.

[ Related: Suspended Senator Patrick Brazeau denied parliamentary press pass ]

The fall session brought some more bad news for the Tories in that regard.

In October and early November, Conservative party leadership in the Senate fumbled and mumbled its way into suspending Senators Patrick Brazeau, Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy for allegedly claiming inappropriate expenses.

On Nov. 20, we saw the release of a court filing which suggested that the RCMP believe that Nigel Wright committed bribery, fraud and breach of trust when he gave Sen. Duffy $90,000. It also suggests that the PMO attempted to influence Tory senators with regard to shutting down Duffy's Deloitte audit and it implicates other PMO and Tory staffers.

And earlier this month, as explained by the Canadian Press, "Conservative senators blocked a bid..to have a key figure from the audit firm Deloitte testify about alleged interference into the review of Sen. Mike Duffy’s expenses."

[ More Politics: 'Quebec is already independent in its mind,' PQ minister says ]

The senate scandal story is not just an Ottawa-bubble story. It's one that's resonating throughout the country. It's an issue that even non-politicos are talking about.

The polls confirm it.

According to pollster Nik Nanos, the Conservative brand has fallen significantly since October, especially in the West.

"Stephen Harper and the Conservatives built their majority and their successful kind of resurgence on the Canadian political field in the West. Fast forward through this session — not a great time for the Conservatives," Nanos told CBC News.

Nanos develops a weekly brand ranking based on four different questions about voting intentions and perceptions. Since Oct. 18, the Tory brand in the Prairie provinces has dropped by a whopping 12 per cent.

"The Tories can't afford to lose more here," he said.

"If the Prairies start to unravel for the Conservatives, it won't be good news in the rest of the country."

Can the Tories' get past the scandal and win the next election? Absolutely.

But if the Tories don't think the scandal is hurting their brand — convinced that it's all a smoke and mirror show brought to you by "entertainment television" — then they might really be in trouble.

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

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