The long road to unity was paved by many loyal conservatives
by Margret Kopala

Published by the Ottawa Citizen, October 18, 2003

Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative leaders Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay have achieved a significant event in Canadian politics. By providing the basis for uniting their parties, they have secured their place in history. Neither would deny, however, that from the time of the Tories’ spectacular defeat in 1993, others laid the groundwork for unity and kept it nourished in order that they, this week, could reap the harvest.

  • June 1995: The Eastern Ontario Progressive Conservative Speakers’ Forum, a grassroots Tory organization with, among others, local lawyer Alan Riddell, Mike Dagg, Joseph Ben Ami and Kory Teneycke, sponsors a debate on the future of conservatism between then-Reform party member David Frum and former Mulroney chief of staff Hugh Segal. Frum and Segal repeat their performance in Toronto. Organized by Blue Tories Bob Dechert, John Capobianco and Scott McDougall, the Toronto group eventually becomes known as The National Blue Committee.

  • May 1996: Kory Teneycke helps David Frum organize The Winds of Change conference in Calgary to promote a merger.

  • July 1998: The PC Speakers’ Forum becomes the National Debaters’ Forum and sponsors “Is There a Right? What is it? Should it Unite? If So, How?” — a debate with Peter G. White, MP Jason Kenney, John Crosbie and Prof. William Christian.

  • 1999: Placing unity firmly on the national agenda, Reform party leader Preston Manning exhorts Reformers to “Think Big” and courts Tories to join his United Alternative initiative.

  • October 1999: Debaters’ Forum and Blue Committee co-sponsor “How Much Unity?” featuring former Ontario lieutenant-governor Hal Jackman, Peter G. White, president of the National Citizens’ Coalition Stephen Harper and Ottawa Citizen columnist David Warren in a Toronto hotel opposite the convention where Tories pass the “301” resolution.

  • March 2000: The Reform party collapses into the Canadian Alliance. Key people from the National Blue Committee are on the National Council.

  • Spring 2000: Jim Jones, the lone Ontario Tory MP, issues a pro-unity householder in which an article details the emissary process for uniting the two parties. He and PC Senator Gerry St. Germain join the Alliance.

  • July 2000: Preston Manning loses his bid for the Alliance leadership.

  • November 2000: The Stockwell Day leadership controversy overshadows the Alliance winning 66 seats in the federal election.

  • May 2001: The Debaters’ Forum sponsors “Towards a New Conservative Union,” with Ray Speaker, MP Gary Lunn, strategist Rick Anderson, former president of the PC party Peter Van Loan, Dany Renauld (Quebec vice-president, PC party), and Bryan Brulotte, a PC candidate in the 2000 election.

  • Summer 2001: The Mont- Tremblant conference brings Alliance dissidents and Tories together to discuss co-operation. Toronto-based Forward Thinking Group, a pro-unity Tory pressure group, is formed with Peter Van Loan, former PC treasurer Rick Perkins and former PC leadership candidate Michael Fortier as key players.

  • October 2001: Gritlock: Are the Liberals In Forever? by Peter G. White and Adam Daifallah analyses unity problems.

  • December 2001: Alliance MPs Diane Ablonczy and Grant Hill campaign for the party leadership on a unity ticket.

  • February 2002: The Progressive Conservative Democratic Representative Coalition, co-chaired by MP Deborah Grey and Senator Lowell Murray, issues discussion papers on democratic reform, demonstrating areas in which the two parties can co-operate.The Cambridge, Ont., PC and CA riding associations co-sponsor “Gathering Momentum,” with speakers Diane Ablonczy; Michael Fortier, Peter MacKay, statistician Dan Tisch and MP Chuck Strahl.

  • Spring 2002: Joe Clark offers Alliance leader Stephen Harper proposals for co-operation, but Harper is preoccupied with restoring the dissidents to the Alliance caucus.

  • June 2003: PC Senator Dave Tkachuk sends unity proposals to Harper and new PC leader Peter MacKay. Brian Mulroney assists Magna CEO Belinda Stronach propose the emissary process.

  • Noteworthy: While Preston Manning laid the unity groundwork, others — mostly from Ontario — kept the field fertile, symbolically confirming the province’s role as a broker in Canadian conservative politics and in Confederation.

Margret Kopala’s column on western perspectives appears here weekly.

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