David Orchard
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Toronto Sun, October 21, 2003

The price of a party
Alliance members are buying up Tory memberships left and right, not only to counter the influence of anti-merger PC David Orchard, but to ensure their control of the merged party

by Greg Weston

If we are to believe the grand promoters of conservative merger-mania, Canadians across the land are wildly plunking down their ten bucks and snapping up Tory party memberships like tickets for the final Stones concert.

"This thing is right out there catching fire -- the stampede is on," declared former Canadian Alliance MP Ray Speaker, one of the architects of the merger deal with the Tories.

Any naysayers trying to get in the way of ratifying the planned political union of the decade, Speaker added, "are going to get stampeded in the rush to buy memberships."

By no coincidence, much of the rush to join the Tory party is coming from Canadian Alliance members.

Why would anyone plunk down good money to join the Tory party on the eve of its funeral?

Answer: To make sure it is dead.

Call this an idle conspiracy theory, but Tories would do well to pay close heed to what is happening around them.

Consider: If the proposed merger deal is successful, both the Canadian Alliance and the federal Progressive Conservative Party will cease to exist sometime in January.

In their place, the new Conservative Party of Canada will be born, requiring that all-new memberships be bought.

In the minds of those supporting this manoeuvre, the melding of the two parties into one will form a powerful official Opposition in Parliament after the next election, and maybe even a government someday.

In the meantime, the proposed new party is just that -- proposed. It has no leader, no members, no money, no policies -- actually, no party. In other words, what is now suddenly up for grabs is quite likely ultimate control of the official Opposition in Parliament and the second most influential party in the / country.

All of which may help to explain why Canadian Alliance types are so eagerly buying up souvenir Tory memberships.

Publicly, the Alliance types are just trying to help their newfound PC pals ratify the merger deal.

Under their party rules, the Tories will require a two-thirds majority vote in favour of a merger, or the deal is dead.

David Orchard, the Tories' troublesome anti-merger champion, currently claims support of about 25% of the party's membership of about 40,000. That means if a vote were held today, Tory ratification of the merger deal would require the support of about 27,000 out of the roughly 30,000 members not devoted to Orchard.

As one Alliance backroomer told me yesterday: "Our goal in buying (Tory) memberships is obviously to help swamp Orchard out of existence."

But that's not the end of it. If successful, the Alliance may also just happen to end up with a hefty presence -- if not control -- of the Tory party over the next few critical months.

Dual membership by so many Alliance supporters might be particularly handy, say, in setting policy for the new Conservative Party.

And how about choosing a new leader for the new party?

Nothing like having thousands of Alliance feet in both camps to give Stephen Harper a boost for the top job.

The Tory-Alliance merger is a fascinating concept, and one that could certainly change the Canadian political landscape very much for the better.

But the country will have gained nothing if the Tories wake up one morning to discover they have simply sold out their party to the Canadian Alliance, ten bucks at a time.

Anyone wondering why Paul Martin and his Liberal strategists are salivating at the prospect of facing off against a new merged Conservative Party in the next election should turn to the Alliance website.

While the new party will no doubt claim to have its own policies, the Grits are already gearing up to tar it with the best right-wing dogma the Alliance has to offer.

One Liberal strategist says the merger will leave him laughing all the way to the polls. "It's kind of like putting their policies on a wall and throwing darts in the general direction -- it's hard to miss one that won't scare off mainstream votes."

Greg Weston is Sun Media's national political columnist, his columns appear Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.

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