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The Toronto Sun, 23 November 2003

Clark & Orchard: An odd pair of party poopers

They are, for the most part, Red Tories who would rather die, politically, than join the Alliance.

by Linda Williamson

In just 19 days, this country's national political landscape will be profoundly changed. Not only is Dec. 12 the day Jean Chretien will finally make his overdue exit from the Prime Minister's Office, it's also the ratification deadline for the equally overdue merger of the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservatives into the new Conservative Party of Canada.

But don't break out the punch and noisemakers just yet.

As the surprisingly low-key merger campaign goes into the homestretch (as of Friday, I could find very little about it on either the PC or CA Web sites), the outcry is growing among those who would spoil the party - in every sense of the word.

They are, for the most part, Red Tories who would rather die, politically, than join the Alliance. Their e-mails pour in to the Sun and other papers, accusing merger-minded Tories of having a death wish and Alliance types like leader Stephen Harper of staging a coup to obliterate them.

Not least among them is Joe Clark, former federal Tory leader (twice) and prime minister (once, briefly), who has lent his baritone voice to the mismatched choir of naysayers.

In a piece published in the Globe and Mail last week - it's available on the Web site of like-minded maverick Tory David Orchard (www.davidorchard.com), along with many similar screeds - Clark gravely warns his fellow Tories (Progressives?) to fight what he calls "suicide."

Sounding an awful lot like his old rival Chretien, Clark flatly calls the merger bid a "takeover" of the Tories by the Alliance and warns: "Just imagine what the federal Liberals would do with a new party that is ashamed to call itself 'progressive' and is defined by Stephen Harper/Stockwell Day/anti-gay/anti-feminist/'We can win without Quebec'/'Yes sir, President Bush.'"

Gee, who says the party is defined that way? Not Tory Leader Peter MacKay. Not former Tory PM Brian Mulroney. Not thousands of Tories and hundreds of new members who signed up for the express purpose of voting for the merger. (Only members who signed up by Nov. 15 can vote, which they'll do by selecting delegates by Dec. 2, who will in turn cast their votes in 20 locations across Canada Dec. 6.)

True, many of those new Tories are Alliance members. But many, many others are small-c conservatives who are sick and tired of the political wilderness and know uniting is the only way to form a credible alternative to the Liberals. Extremists and social conservative hardliners they're not.

Besides, Clark's desperate, childish characterization of the new CPC ignores the special provisions made in the merger proposal to protect the smaller Tory party from being swallowed up by the Alliance. (By the way, Alliance members who signed up by Oct. 27 will cast their votes by mail-in ballot, which must be returned by this Thursday. Results are to be announced Dec. 6. Whether that will be before or after the Tory delegates cast their votes is an intriguing question.)

Clark's piece tells you all you need to know about why the right could never get together on his watch -and still won't, if he has anything to say about it. He insists the Tories would be better off on their own in the next election - they'd be strapped for money and votes, but he maintains they'd gain "respect" for sticking to their "principles," though he doesn't explain what those principles are.

Ontario PCs 'wiped out'

And he scoffs at the suggestion the new party could gain seats against Paul Martin's Liberals next spring. Quebec's a write-off, and Ontario's not much better, he argues, noting "the party of Mike Harris and Ernie Eves has just been wiped out" in Toronto. (True, but it still won 35% of the popular vote in the province, and Ontarians historically prefer not to vote for the same party provincially and federally.) Of course, as Clark well knows, Harris, Eves and most of their colleagues abandoned his party long ago because of his refusal to join forces with the Alliance.

Clark even argues the recent provincial election failure by the conservative Saskatchewan Party is a sign a "united right" can't win. He neglects to mention the SP was necessitated (and is still haunted) by the provincial Tories self-immolating in a criminal fraud scandal a decade ago.

I've always liked and respected Clark, but his political judgment is consistently bad. In fact, his being so dead set against this merger is the best sign yet for Canadian conservatives that it's the right thing to do.

Bring on Dec. 12 - and sing Joy to the (Political) World!

Linda Williamson is the Toronto Sun senior associate editor. She can be reached by e-mail at linda.williamson@tor.sunpub.com. Letters to the editor should be sent to editor@tor.sunpub.com

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