IF STEPHEN HARPER is the stiff-lipped conscience of the new Conservatives, Belinda Stronach is their resident rock star.When the 38-year-old rookie MP arrives at the Palais des Congrès in Old Montreal to register for the party's inaugural policy convention, she steps off the escalator like a blast of colour amid a sea of navy blue suits and the odd Stetson.

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Others simply want to gush over the good job she's doing, compliment her on her ensemble, or remind her of the time they met.

Smiling or nodding attentively, Stronach is patient and gracious. She inches her way toward the registration desk at the far end of the foyer, flanked by attractive young aides who are poised to step in should any of her admirers become too demonstrative. "It's a great honour to be acknowledged for the good work you're doing for the party," she says after a moment's consideration. I wouldn't have gotten into politics if I didn't care about people and this country.

So, yes, it's fun for me." Less fun, perhaps, for Stephen Harper.

Several hours earlier, the party leader had staged a media photo-op for his arrival.

Picture Gwyneth Paltrow at a gathering of accountants.

Stronach may not have won the party leadership last year, but within moments the room appears to reconfigure around her.Teenagers and middle-aged men, blushing and shuffling their feet, ask her to pose for a photo.Some whip out a pen and her old campaign shots for a quick autograph.He descended on the escalator with his wife, Laureen, waving and smiling stiffly, while a team of Conservative youth in yellow Harper T-shirts cheered and shook noisemakers below.The light reflecting through the building's coloured-glass windows made the scene look vaguely ecclesiastical.The fact that, even with the manufactured hoopla, Harper couldn't generate the kind of adulation heaped upon Stronach is a recurring theme - and a source of endless frustration among devoted Harperites.