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Globe and Mail, Monday 01 December 2003

Why we're going to court

A small clique has hijacked our party and violated its constitution, say long-time Tories


Some people, including writers at The Globe and Mail, have suggested that the fight to save the Progressive Conservative Party should be fought at the ballot box and not in the courts. The party faithful were told that opponents of a merger with the Alliance Party should be out seeking votes.

Such reasoning assumes that all party members will get a fair chance to debate and pass judgment on the deal entered into by our leader, Peter MacKay. That is not the case. We are in court only because democracy, and our party's constitution, have been subverted and the forces determined to liquidate the party have closed all legitimate political doors.

The party leadership and its lawyers have refused to allow either our management committee or the National Council, the supreme governing body of the party, to even debate, let alone challenge, the mandate or constitutionality of the merger proposal. As for the vote on the merger, scheduled for Dec. 6, only delegates selected in each riding on a winner-take-all basis will pass judgment. That means that even if 49 per cent of the members of a riding association oppose merger, all the delegates to the Dec. 6 vote from that riding will be counted as "yes" voters. In fact, under the process cooked up for this vote, it is possible that most of the party's members could oppose the merger proposal and it could still pass handily.

Those who tell us to trust in the democratic process ignore the rigging of the voters' list. After the deal between Mr. MacKay and Alliance Leader Stephen Harper was announced, the National Post and other merger enthusiasts urged the much more numerous members of the Alliance party to join the PC Party to push the deal through. Sure enough, more than 20,000 new members have been added to the membership rolls since Mr. MacKay announced his deal to destroy the PC Party. This is a 50-per-cent increase of our membership in one month. Many of these individuals are actively working for the party's demise.

Nowhere in the PC constitution does it suggest that the party can be dissolved in this way. Notice requirements in our constitution have been waived, party funds are being used improperly to promote only the pro-merger side of the question, nominations of candidates for the next election have been frozen and there is chaos at the riding level.

For these reasons, we have approached the court asking for a ruling on our rights as party members. We are not asking the court to stop the vote. Nor do we seek to stop those who wish to join the Alliance, or start a new party, from so doing. We are simply asking the court to protect the rights of all of us who want to preserve our party, the party that founded Canada.

Those who accuse us of running to the courts should look closely at the names on our court action. They include Albert Horner from Saskatchewan, who won his Commons seat in four consecutive elections; Heward Grafftey, who won his Quebec seat seven times; Bud Sherman, who served both as a federal member and for 15 years as a member of the Manitoba Legislature, including four years as that province's minister of health. This is hardly a group afraid of voters.

Over the past five years and in the face of considerable pressure from the Reform/Alliance, our party has four times voted decisively not to merge with that party. In 1999, by a 95-per-cent vote, we enshrined a constitutional safeguard prohibiting merger with any other political party. This was reaffirmed by our National Council in 2001. In 2002, delegates at another national meeting once again confirmed this by a wide margin. In the recent leadership race, the only pro-merger candidate received less than 1 per cent of delegate support, and withdrew before the first ballot. Our leader was elected on the basis of his repeated pledge (including a clear signed agreement) that he was not a merger candidate.

Can a small group at the top of a political party hijack the process and the party's constitution to reverse policies put in place by repeated votes of the membership? Can this group achieve approval by asking a vague question, administered in a gerrymandered and stampeded vote? If they do so, are the members powerless? Surely the rule of law is still a cornerstone of Canadian society.

Those of us approaching the court with these questions are not fleeing the political process. Many of us have given the best years of our lives to it.

However, when the political process fails in a civilized society, the rule of law is our bulwark. Due process exists to protect the rights of the minority. This is what has led us to our unusual but necessary application to the courts.

David Orchard, candidate of record for Prince Albert, twice ran for the PC leadership and signed an agreement with Peter MacKay not to merge with the Canadian Alliance. C.
Hanson Dowell is chairman of the PC Party Presidents Council of Nova Scotia and a life-long Tory.
Oscar Johvicas is immediate past president of the Beaches-East York federal PC Association and an active party member since 1965.
John Perrin is immediate past president of the Winnipeg South Centre federal PC Association and has been active in the party since 1975. Author information

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