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The Toronto Star, 23 October 2003

A blatant swindle

The party created by John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier in 1854, that founded Canada, is being asked to vote to extinguish itself

by David Orchard

On or before Dec. 12, 2003, the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada will vote on whether to cease to exist.

The party created by John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier in 1854, that founded Canada, flung a railroad across it, negotiated the entry of the west into Confederation, gave us the second national railway, gave women the vote, bequeathed us the Bank of Canada, the CBC and the Canadian Wheat Board, that gave aboriginal Canadians the right to vote, the only party that has ever defeated the Liberals, is being asked to vote to extinguish itself, to scrap its constitution and wait shivering by the altar.

Uniting the right, we are told, is the key to effectively challenge the Liberals. But is it?

One of the reasons for the Liberal party's success is its ability to straddle the centre of the political spectrum. The Progressive Conservative party has been most successful when it has done the same.

In the early 1950s, the party adopted a business orientation, moved right and was unsuccessful until John Diefenbaker took the party back to the centre.

Some called Diefenbaker "a prairie Bolshevik" and protested loudly that he was "too left wing" to lead the PC party. In reply, he won a massive victory in 1958.

Now we are told the key to victory is to drop the word "Progressive" from our name and merge with the Canadian Alliance.

In 2003, one might have thought that the time was past that a quiet chat in a corporate boardroom and the wave of a chequebook could erase the country's oldest political party.

But those who thought that policies and constitutions were hammered out through the arduous process of debate, of voting and finding common ground among members, are in for a rude shock.

After a vote to dissolve the PC party, the new "Conservative party" is to be run for an indefinite period of time by an Interim Joint Council consisting of a dozen hand-picked individuals, referred to stingingly by a senior Tory as "an Iraqi Governing Council." Even the name, the "Conservative Party of Canada," has been chosen from on high.

There may be no time to consult the membership about a constitution or about policy, according to the "agreement in principle," signed by Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay. But Harper has told us not to worry. The Alliance has some good policies and 60-odd MPs capable of articulating them for the new party in the next election!

And if Paul Martin should call an election on or before the new Conservative party can choose a leader, well, that also is something we are told not to worry about.

It is for this future that we are asked to liquidate the party with 150 years of history. And how is this termination of the PC party to be completed?

Well, we are informed that anyone, including members of the Alliance with a vested interest in the outcome, can join the PC party now and vote in the most important decision in our party's history. They are invited to "come home," as part of a wrecking crew to demolish that very home.

Even a segment of the 100,000 members of the Alliance can easily outvote the 40,000 PC party members who are entitled to vote.

Alliance MP Brian Pallister announces proudly that he has taken a membership in both parties and intends to vote twice, i.e. in the ratification vote of both parties. He is urging all Alliance members to do the same.

In its Oct. 18 editorial, the National Post advises: "Every possible measure must be taken to defeat Joe Clark, David Orchard and the other merger obstructionists. Indeed, Alliance members should consider joining the Tories just so they can help push this deal through from the PC side."

No wonder Harper thought Christmas had come early.

The Alliance needed the Progressive Conservatives off the ballot in Western Canada to avoid facing oblivion.

The leader of the PC party has obligingly offered up his party to save the Alliance. In fact, MacKay has taken to speaking for "the conservative movement in Canada." But he was not elected to lead "the conservative movement," he was elected to lead the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada which has a constitution that states:

"The Leader is the chief public Officer of the Party and shall promote the Party and its Aims and Principles."

How does putting an end to the party square with the constitutional obligation to promote it?

And when this new vehicle is crushed by the Liberals, what excuse will the unite-the-righters use to explain away yet another failure?

And what solace will there be for those left holding the ashes of the legacy of Cartier and Macdonald sacrificed in a transparent reach for power?

There is no shortcut to power for our party. We must do the work necessary to rebuild our riding associations and develop and articulate policies that reflect Canadians' hopes and dreams for the country. This goal cannot be achieved through an unmandated deal behind closed doors, executed in haste and ratified in a blatant swindle.

Normally, after leadership conventions, membership numbers drop sharply. The thousands joining our party since June 1 are clearly part of an organized effort to vote for the demise of the party that in 1999 and again in 2002 voted overwhelmingly not to merge with any other.

A fair vote of the bona fide membership held today would do so once again. Nothing has changed materially since May 31, when 99 per cent of PC delegates voted for leadership candidates pledged to maintain the party. (The one pro-merger candidate received under 1 per cent support.) MacKay gained power on the basis of an explicit, signed commitment to maintain the party's constitutional clause prohibiting merger with the Alliance.

This Saturday in Ottawa the management committee of the party, those charged with, and responsible for, the promotion of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, will decide whether to give their stamp of approval to the fraud of an open membership vote to determine our party's future.

If you as a party member and Canadian voter care about extinguishing the only viable national alternative to the governing Liberals, let these 36 individuals know that in their hands rests the responsibility for the fate of Canada's founding party and its democracy.

Their names and e-mail addresses and contact numbers are available on the party web site at http://www.pcparty.ca.

David Orchard twice ran for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. He is the author of The Fight For Canada. http://www.davidorchard.com

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