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The Toronto Star, 14 November 2003

No future for PC party

Proposed right-wing alliance would violate the progressive and moderate traditions of its former leaders.

by Flora MacDonald

On my return to Canada from Afghanistan where I work with groups of war widows, I was surprised to receive a call from a CBC reporter asking for my views on the merger. Thinking she was inquiring about some amalgamation of business interests, I explained that since I had just returned to Ottawa, I wasn't up to date on the latest business ventures.

I was, to put it mildly, appalled to be told that she was talking about the merger between the Progressive Conservative party and the Canadian Alliance. In fact, I protested that this just couldn't be since Peter MacKay had clearly indicated on many platforms during his leadership campaign that this was not a process he would endorse.

MacKay was not my first choice at the June leadership convention - I supported Scott Brison on the first two ballots but after that I gave my vote to MacKay because I took him at his word. He said he would support the strongly endorsed decision of the party at its national convention in Edmonton in the summer of 2002 that there would be 301 Progressive Conservative candidates in the next federal election.

My reaction to the agreement in principle, signed secretly by MacKay and Stephen Harper in October, 2003, was first of all one of incredulity, then anger that the party decisions so strongly expressed in Edmonton and endorsed by MacKay during the leadership campaign could be so easily jettisoned. Further, the fact that he would willingly preside over the demolition of a historic 150-year-old institution that has done so much to build this country leaves me asking how he defines integrity and principle.

In speaking at a fundraising dinner in Toronto recently, MacKay quoted an earlier leader:

"I believe time is the ally of leaders who placed the defence of principle ahead of the pursuit of popularity.

"And history has little time for the marginal roles played by the carpers and complainers and less for their opinions."

Where and how has he defended principle? And are the carpers and complainers he refers to all those who disagree with his actions? Those who have played only "marginal" roles within the party?

I speak only for myself (but I know there are many others who feel the same way) when I reject the qualification of having played only a "marginal role" in the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.

Prior to 1959, national conventions of the Progressive Conservative party consisted of a gathering of some 300 souls who came together to effect their own re-election to that select group. The then-leader and prime minister, John Diefenbaker, made it clear such a process did not support his populist views about the way in which a modern Canadian national party should operate.

I was closely involved in the drafting of a new constitution ensuring that the basic attendance at future national conventions would comprise representatives from all constituencies and that there would be ample time at these conventions for free and open discussion of the policies of the day. And even though that initial constitution has been amended on a number of occasions since 1959, it has always been done by members of the PC party at a properly constituted national meeting.

I have never considered that my involvement in the Progressive Conservative party has been marginal, nor that I fall under the rubric of "carper or complainer." From the days of my initial involvement with the party as an employee in the early months of 1957, I have taken part in every general election up to the most recent one, as well as in provincial elections in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta, and numerous by-elections at both the federal and provincial levels.

At the request of the party and its candidates, I have spoken on behalf of the Progressive Conservative party in most of Canada's 301 constituencies. I have run for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party (the first woman to do so) and proudly represented the historic constituency of Kingston and the Islands, the riding of the founder of the party, Sir John A. Macdonald, in the House of Commons for 16 years.

I do not consider that I have played a marginal role, nor am I a carper or complainer when it comes to the place of the Progressive Conservative party in the history and development of Canada. I have earned the right to speak out when the future of the Progressive Conservative party is being threatened by betrayal at its current highest levels.

The party's future lies not in some right-wing alliance that would violate the progressive and moderate traditions of its former leaders, but with a renewed emphasis on the values that the great majority of Canadians feel represent their views.

Flora MacDonald is a former minister of foreign affairs now involved with a number of international humanitarian groups.

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