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The Globe and Mail , Monday, May 10, 2004

Undo Conservative merger, stalwarts to ask court

by Kirk Makin

The former Progressive Conservative ministers, led by Sinclair Stevens, plan to argue in Federal Court tomorrow that the registration of the new party was rushed through with unjustifiable haste on a Sunday last December. The litigants -- long-time members of the now defunct Progressive Conservative Party of Canada -- also take issue with the Chief Electoral Officer for registering the new party before anyone could try to challenge it.

"There is evidence that the reason the application to register the new party was made so quickly was to preclude legal action by the Applicant and others," states a legal brief by the group, which describes itself as "PC Loyalists."

"To allow the decision to stand would threaten our fundamental democratic processes by putting every political party at great risk of being taken over in a similar manner."

The applicants are seeking an order that would undo the merger, return almost $8.5-million to the PC Party and leave candidates of the new party to fight the coming federal election as members of an officially deregistered party.

"Ensuring that political parties are not wiped out undemocratically is more important than the effects on any one election," said Peter Rosenthal, a lawyer for the PC Loyalists. "Even if the Conservative Party is quashed as a result of this application, its candidates can run as individuals in the upcoming, or any other, election."

Mr. Rosenthal said in an interview that the PC Loyalists include such former PC party stalwarts as ex-Newfoundland Premier Brian Peckford and former federal cabinet ministers Heward Grafftey and Flora MacDonald.

The group is led by Mr. Stevens, who was industry minister under Brian Mulroney before losing his job to a scandal.

The new Conservative Party of Canada was registered on Sunday, Dec. 7, 2003, one day after the PC Party had voted in favour of an agreement to merge with the Canadian Alliance. The PC Loyalists claim that their so-called resolution to merger was bogus and that key supporting documentation fails to refer to the move as a merger.

"The leader of the PC Party and others urging ratification of the agreement-in-principle refrained from using the word 'merger' in describing its effect, as did the news release issued by the PC Party after the ratification vote," the PC Loyalists brief says. "The agreement-in-principle is an agreement to create a new party, rather than to merge two existing parties."

Had the merger process been done properly and honourably, the Loyalists claim, those behind it would have first created a new party. Instead, they said, the Chief Elections Officer quickly approved the deal and then said he was powerless to revisit his decision.

Mr. Sinclair said in an interview that his group greatly resents the way the new party was "orchestrated" after two successive PC conventions had specifically voted against combining.

Mr. Rosenthal added: "If the process was as flawed as we allege in our Notice of Application, it must be reversed -- not only to restore the Progressive Conservative Party, but also to protect other parties from similar takeovers in future."

The case differs in several ways from an Ontario Court of Appeal challenge by former Conservative Party MP David Orchard that was heard last week. That challenge alleges that since the PC Party's constitution contains no provision for a merger, one could be carried out only with the unanimous consent of its members.

Mr. Rosenthal said the trial judge in the Orchard challenge instructed that any future judicial review of the merger should focus on whether the Chief Electoral Officer had properly considered whether the merger resolution met the requirements of the Canada Elections Act. That is what the PC Loyalists have done.

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