- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2003

TORONTO — Canada’s fractured right soon might be united after years of bitter infighting, party revolts and failed bids to stave off successive Liberal governments.

Members of the Progressive Conservative (PC) Party are voting this week on whether to ratify a deal that would see it merge with the larger Canadian Alliance to form an organization simply called the Conservative Party.

Alliance members already have sent in their ballots by mail, but the results of the vote won’t be made public until tomorrow. The PCs, meanwhile, plan to announce their results at a special meeting in Ottawa on Saturday.

Most PCs have voted in favor of the merger at local meetings being held nationwide.

“I am 100 percent confident it will be approved,” Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper said. “Imagine if moderate Republicans and conservative Republicans had their own political parties. That’s kind of the situation that has developed here.

“People in both parties are overwhelmingly in favor of this [merger], as is the Canadian public,” Mr. Harper added. “Even many of our political opponents think this is good for democracy.”

But it might not be good for Mr. Harper’s political career. He and Progressive Conservative leader Peter MacKay are staking their paychecks by agreeing to the merger.

If approved, the two will be forced to compete for the new party’s top job — if they want it. Neither leader officially has announced his intentions, but both are expected to run.

The latest move to unite the right comes as former Liberal Finance Minister Paul Martin prepares to take over as Canada’s prime minister when Jean Chretien retires on Dec. 12.

Without a united right wing waging a coordinated fight, some analysts predict that Mr. Martin handily will win an election many expect will be called next spring.

“It’s been said that nothing focuses the mind more than the sight of the gallows,” said Allan Gregg of the Toronto-based polling and research firm Strategic Counsel.

“To get beyond mere survival, the new party must find an electoral coalition that extends beyond the narrow base the two old parties were able to garner separately.”

Opponents fear that the merger plan will fail to garner enough support and that the Liberals will add to their 10 consecutive years in power.

“They’re liquidating the grand old party of Canada,” said David Orchard, a lawyer and farmer from the prairie province of Saskatchewan.

“The Progressive Conservative Party is the party that founded Canada. Now, it’s being taken over by a larger party with a different philosophy,” he said. “I think [a merger] will relegate it to the fringes of the political spectrum.”

In May, Mr. Orchard lost his second bid to become leader of the Progressive Conservatives, but not before he signed a deal with the eventual winner in which Mr. MacKay agreed not to merge with the Canadian Alliance.

Angered by the broken agreement, Mr. Orchard and his supporters have filed a lawsuit to block the merger. An Ontario Superior Court judge is scheduled to hear the matter today and tomorrow.

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