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New 'Conservative' party will unite Tories and Alliance
Last Updated Thu, 16 Oct 2003 20:58:23

OTTAWA - There's been a history-making breakthrough in the talks to unite the right. The leaders of the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance have reached an agreement in principle to merge their parties.

Conservative Leader Peter MacKay and Canadian Alliance Leader Stephen Harper have struck an agreement in principle and are meeting to work out the final details.

They will make the announcement, officially, on Thursday. A news conference has been scheduled for 9 a.m. ET in the National Press Theatre in Ottawa. The event will be carried live on CBC Newsworld.

The two parties will be given until Dec. 12 to ratify the historic deal. Then a vote would be held on March 21 to select the leader of what would then be called The Conservative Party.

Stephen Harper

The deal comes after weeks of negotiations. Now a stunning breakthrough and the merger deal had been reached.

When reporters caught up with Harper at the airport in Calgary he said he was hurrying back to Ottawa "for business that is important and, dare I hope, historic."

"Let's not look at it as 'us versus the Tories' in what's coming together. It's 'us getting together with the Tories in one party,' making sure we work together," said Harper.

MacKay rushed back to Ottawa from Nova Scotia on crutches after hurting himself playing rugby on the weekend.

"Clearly negotiations have reached a point where we may have something in principle to give Canadians a choice in the next election, not the one after that, or the one after that," said MacKay.

The merger will have to be ratified by Dec. 12. For each party that means approval by the caucus, by the executive and by the general membership, something that could challenge the Conservatives, since such a change would need to be approved by two-thirds of the members.

Just how many party members, such as former leadership candidate David Orchard, are hostile to the idea is unknown. The Tory caucus has also been divided, but reluctant MP Elsie Wayne now says the Canadian Alliance has in essence agreed to rejoin the Conservatives.

"They have agreed to everything, including how to choose a leader, in which every one of our ridings would be treated equally," she said.

Others are also trumpeting the merger. "The main thing that we're seeing is a lot of federal Tories who have been sitting on the fence. We're ready to be re-engaged," said Tory organizer Kevin Gallagher.

"There is enthusiasm, there is an excitement that now we're putting ourselves in a position to become a viable alternative to the Liberals," said CA strategist Tim Powers.

The leader of the merged party would be chosen on March 21, adopting the method used by the Conservatives in 1998, giving equal weight to ridings.

Potential leadership candidates are already lining up: former Ontario Premier Mike Harris is interested, and two former Tory leadership candidates, Scott Brison and Jim Prentice are not ruling out a bid.

Written by CBC News Online staff

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