Tories vow to forge ahead with a renewed party

James Wood, Calgary Herald

After living through “one of the worst years” in party history, Canada Tories have committed to rebuild the party, even as it faces significant financial challenges.

With about 1,000 Progressive Conservatives gathered for the party’s annual general meeting at the Red Deer Sheraton, members voted in favour of accepting the report of the party’s engagement committee, which calls for renewal and modernization under the PC brand.

While talk of consolidating conservatives has been in the air in Canada, interim Tory Leader Ric McIver noted that no delegates rose to push the idea of uniting the provincial right in conjunction with the Wildrose party.

“There was overwhelming response to a motion to build the party and move the party forward as the Progressive Conservative association,” McIver told reporters.

“It’s a pretty clear message for me. It’s a pretty clear message from our members that attended this annual general meeting which way they want to go.”

The AGM is the first since the party’s four-decade run in power was brought to an end by the NDP in a provincial election held almost exactly a year ago. The Tories were reduced to third place in the legislature while the Wildrose formed the official Opposition.

A membership survey conducted by the engagement committee found rebuilding as a favoured option of 68 per cent of Tories, followed by uniting the right at 56 per cent. Renewing the party, then assessing where it is at, had 54 per cent support.

PC party vice-president Jason Copping said there was a variety of interpretations among party members about what uniting the right actually meant, from forming a new party to expanding the PC tent to joining up with the Wildrose.

While no one publicly backed the idea from the floor, some vehement opponents rose against the notion.

Former MLA George Rogers, who lost his seat in the spring election, said he is “a proud Progressive Conservative.”

“The whole idea of uniting the right to wrest power from the NDs, ladies and gentlemen, is hollow. And I don’t think we have hollow people in this room,” he said.

The party’s renewal process will include a new method of selecting a leader.

PC members, after first voting in favour of retaining a modified version of the current one-member, one-vote system, then turned around and backed moving to a delegated convention for the next leadership contest. Under a resolution passed Saturday, that race will be held in the next three to 12 months, with the date decided by the party’s board of directors.

Tories also passed a resolution that an interim party leader in the future cannot run for the permanent post, but it will not retroactively apply to McIver. McIver and MLAs Sandra Jansen and Richard Starke are members of caucus contemplating a leadership run.

While Tories were relatively upbeat about the party’s prospects moving forward, party treasurer William Stevenson warned he would be the “downer” of the event.

The party still owe $770,000 following the election, he noted.

By the end of May, the Tories expect to have only $10,000 in the bank, not including money raised through the AGM, said Stevenson.

While spending has been curtailed dramatically since last year, monthly expenditures on data management and marketing are due to rise, he said.

However, Stevenson said those activities are each expected to boost fundraising and he noted the party had already successfully navigated through choppy financial waters last year.

“I didn’t think we would make it to the end of December,” he acknowledged.

Party executive director Troy Wason noted the total financial assets available to the party through constituency associations and candidate trusts amount to over $1.6 million.

Katherine O’Neill, who was elected party president Saturday, said fundraising will be one of her top priorities.

Beyond its electoral and financial difficulties, the PC party experienced a tragedy last fall with the death of MLA Manmeet Bhullar.

Outgoing party president Terri Beaupre told delegates at the start of the day that “it’s definitely been one of the worst years our party has gone through.”

But she said the party is intact and strong.

“We are not dead. We were wounded,” said Beaupre.

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