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Globe and MailMonday, March 08, 2004

Stevens asks to see file on Tory merger

by Gay Abbate

Former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Sinclair Stevens will be in court today asking for all documentation from the federal chief electoral officer on why he approved the merger of the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives on a Sunday, depriving opponents of the chance to take legal steps to stop it.

Mr. Stevens said he needs the documents disclosed so that he can prepare for his application for a judicial review of the merger decision, which he argues violates the Canada Elections Act. The review by a Federal Court judge will likely take place next month.

Lawyer Peter Rosenthal, who is representing Mr. Stevens, said he received only the documents that Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley deemed relevant to his decision to register the new party. Mr. Rosenthal said he wants all the material in his possession having to do with the Progressive Conservative Party because his client was denied his constitutional right to challenge the merger before it was approved.

Mr. Kingsley officially brought the Conservative Party of Canada into being when he approved the merger on Dec. 7, 2003, only one day after the Progressive Conservatives voted to join with the Alliance, who had ratified the decision on Dec. 5.

Two documents from the package of evidence Mr. Stevens filed with the court shed new light on the reason for the rush to get Mr. Kingsley's signature by Alliance and Tory leaders Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay.

The objective was to pre-empt a legal challenge, Marjaleena Repo, the Progressive Conservative Party's Saskatchewan vice-president, says in an affidavit.

She wrote that at a meeting of her party's management committee on the morning of Dec. 8, Mr. MacKay "was evasive about what had occurred on the previous day."

Mr. McKay left it to someone else to explain that the merger was a fait accompli, Ms. Repo says. She and the others in attendance were told that "the Sunday meeting . . . had been arranged to pre-empt legal challenges."

The other document is a Dec. 17 memo attached to Ms. Repo's affidavit. The author, Paul Lepsoe, the party's lawyer, says that on Dec. 7 separate litigation by Mr. Stevens and David Orchard "were threatened and potentially able to be filed at the opening of court offices bright and early on Mon., Dec. 8."

Cognizant of that fact, the two leaders decided to proceed that day with the official signing by Mr. Kingsley, Mr. Lepsoe says.

Mr. Orchard, a Saskatchewan farmer, ran for the Tory leadership in 2003, but conceded the race to Mr. MacKay after Mr. MacKay agreed in principle not to merge with the Alliance.

As part of the judicial review, Mr. Stevens wants the court to quash the registration of the Conservative Party of Canada and restore the Progressive Conservative Party. He also wants the PC Party to be given back the $8.47-million it handed over to the new Conservative Party.

Alternatively, he wants the court to order Mr. Kingsley to review his decision to register the new party and to hear public deputations.

Mr. Stevens alleges that what was before Mr. Kingsley was not a proper merger resolution, as required by the Canada Elections Act. Instead, he had a document entitled "Agreement in Principle" that was an agreement to form a new party, "which would suggest that it was not a resolution to merge the parties," Mr. Rosenthal said.

Gay Abbate is the courts reporter for the Globe and Mail

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