Marjaleena Repo
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Ensign, April 12, 2005

Conservative leaders' rhetoric does not match reality

By Marjaleena Repo

In the aftermath of the Conservative Party's first convention, its leaders are making statements that cannot go unchallenged.

Stephen Harper announces boldly that his party is a "very inclusive, open party," that there is room in his party for differing views, and that the party has demonstrated "a high degree of tolerance of differences."

What does one then make of the fact that David Orchard, a major figure in the Progressive Conservative Party since '98 and twice a leadership candidate, the very man who made Peter MacKay the leader in the 2003 convention, was not allowed to attend the convention even as an observer? Orchard renewed his membership in early February (all PC Party members had had their memberships extended to the end of 2004) when registering as a member-observer. His registration was accepted and confirmed, but was arbitrarily cancelled only two days before the convention, when Orchard had already made all his traveling and hotel arrangements.

The excuses given were many and varied, until he was finally told that a special meeting of the party's Interim Joint Council had rejected his membership for good. No other observer status was available to him, and thus an individual who for six years had played a leading role in the rebuilding of the PC Party and had a great interest in the outcome of the convention could not be present to witness the party's first constitution and policies, while representatives from the Liberal, New Democratic and Bloq Quebecois parties, and various other organizations, were able to circulate freely.

If anything, this shows "a high degree of intolerance" and a petty mentality, and is hardly an indication of the boasted inclusiveness and openness.

On his part, deputy leader Peter MacKay continues to falsify history. He claims, with a straight face, that his infamous breech of the signed agreement with David Orchard in the 2003 PC Party’s leadership convention, to abide by the PC Party's constitution and not to merge with the Canadian Alliance, was "democratic, involved, transparent and open," because he had consulted widely and thoroughly with party members before he signed an agreement with Stephen Harper to do the exact opposite, to merge the parties.

In reality, Peter MacKay consulted no decision-making body of the PC party before he betrayed his agreement with David Orchard.

At no time did he discuss the reneging of his agreement with Orchard with the party's management committee, of which I was a member (I was also present when Orchard and MacKay negotiated and signed their agreement), and did not advise members of the committee on the Harper-Mackay negotiations OR agreement until after it was signed. This took his parliamentary caucus, including the previous party leader, Joe Clark, by complete surprise as well.

Likewise, the National Council of riding presidents met by teleconference after the signing of the Agreement of Principle, and even then no debate was allowed on the motion to merge the parties and no amendments were permitted, to many a president's outrage.

The so-called referendum of December 6, '03, was fraudulent by its very nature, because members of the Canadian Alliance, with a 3-4 times larger membership than the PC Party, were officially encouraged to take a second membership in the PC Party, and therefore were able to vote twice in favour of the merger. In my own riding in Blackstrap, Saskatchewan, a brand new group of Alliance supporters arrived to the delegate selection meeting and with 52% of the vote took all the positions. The party did not have proportional representation on the issue, which would have guaranteed fairness, and therefore slightly over 50% of those who attended the delegate selection meetings took nearly all the positions, thereby delivering the thoroughly misleading "over 90% approval" of the Agreement in Principle.

Over the years the PC Party had taken concrete steps to prevent the feared takeover of the party by the Reform/Canadian Alliance, the latter looking to change its spots so as to be more palatable to the Canadian electorate. In its 1999 convention party members voted for a constitutional amendment to prevent the takeover, and upheld it in 2002, as well as having the riding presidents reject another attempt in 2001 to promote "a Conservative Alternative," a code word for merger.

All in all, a huge majority of PC Party members, from one delegate convention to another, opposed the very idea of the merger, and as late as in the 2003 leadership convention, gave the openly pro-merger candidate a mere 1% of the votes. At no time did Peter MacKay ask for or receive a mandate to proceed with merger negotiations, let alone to sign a deal with Stephen Harper, which resulted in the death of the historically significant Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. The mandate he had was to uphold his party's constitution, and this is what he confirmed in his deal with David Orchard. To claim otherwise today is to earn him not one, but two monikers, that of a Judas and a Pinochio, the latter which he is free to share with his unprincipled partner, Stephen Harper.


Marjaleena Repo is a writer and researcher on social, political and justice issues, with a special interest in the media and in civil liberties. She lives in Saskatoon and can be reached at mrepo@sasktel.net.


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