David Orchard
Opposition to the PC-CA Merger
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Globe and Mail, October 10, 2003

Unite the right? Don't bother us with details

by John Ibbitson

'We're not worried about things like the party constitution," one Tory close to the unite-the-right talks said, "we're just trying to do a deal, here."

Well guys, it's time to take a look at that constitution.

The negotiations to unite the Conservative and Alliance parties are foundering over an ostensible obstacle that hides a larger truth. The Conservatives insist the new leader must be chosen by delegates representing all 301 ridings. The Alliance prefers one member, one vote.

This so-called process question really speaks to fundamental and conflicting values: the Alliance's dedication to the principle of equal rights for all members, versus the Tory commitment to fair representation for all parts of the Canadian community.

Both sides, however, are forgetting a third principle, of government by rule of law. In this instance, that law is the constitution of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. For those who care about such things, it's worth a read.

Let's start with section 1.1: "The name of the party is the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada." Simple enough.

Both sides have agreed that the name of the new party is to be the Conservative Party of Canada. So the constitution will need to be amended to delete the adjective.

(It will also need to be amended to admit the membership of the Canadian Alliance, absorb the assets and liabilities of the two parties and change the leadership process. But let's start small.)

How hard is it to amend the Progressive Conservative Party constitution? For that we turn to section 14.1: "Amendments to the constitution may be made at any national meeting."

What could be easier? Peter MacKay simply needs to ask the national council to convene a national meeting of the party. (Please see section 8.9.) Across the country, constituency associations will immediately gather to select delegates.

Except, there is the unpleasantness of section 14.4, which states that notices of motion to amend the constitution must be submitted at least 42 days before such a meeting. That means, at the very earliest, that the party could not meet until the end of November. You're only four months away from the expected April election, and you still don't have a leader.

Even if the party can find a venue for the end of November, delegates from across the country will have to pay for air fare, hotel accommodation and antacid tablets. Could you even get enough delegates to a meeting to make a quorum?

Let's assume that the delegates actually assemble. Now, all they need to do is vote to amend the constitution. Nothing could be simpler, were it not for section 14.6. "The constitution shall not be amended unless a motion to amend is carried by at least two-thirds of all members voting on the motion to amend." Oh dear.

Most insiders estimate that David Orchard and his supporters control about one-quarter of the membership of the party. They are concentrated in certain ridings, especially in the West, but their influence remains formidable. Then there are all the others in the party who have their own reservations about this shotgun marriage.

"We could certainly get half," of the delegates to support the leader, one person tracking the numbers predicted. "I don't know if we could ever get two-thirds."

Add up all those obstacles, then calculate the odds.

One expert thinks there are a couple of ways around the problem. The first is to simply poll the entire membership directly. The other is to hold a virtual meeting, getting the delegates to vote electronically or by phone from their constituencies.

Possible, but risky. Even if the pro-union forces got their two-thirds support, Mr. Orchard would probably challenge the result in court, saying the process violated the party's own binding rules, since neither the direct vote nor the virtual meeting might stand judicial scrutiny.

Don't bother us with these process questions, the Tories say, when asked about such things.

How can the party of Confederation choose to dissolve itself by flouting the written expression of its very existence? Would you vote for a political party that believed written constitutions could be overthrown by popular will?


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