Retail heir should know better than to shop a loser

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The Gazette, Wednesday, June 15, 2011

It being the Conservative Party, naturally there were fault lines at a national policy convention, even one following so closely on the heels of an election that produced a Conservative majority government.

So there they were debating, for the third consecutive convention, the question of one member, one vote at a leadership convention, as opposed to the status quo in which all ridings are equally represented with 100 members.

The perpetual proponent of a one-member, one-vote system is Eastern Ontario MP Scott Reid, heir to the Giant Tiger retailing fortune, who just won't take no for an answer. And probably won't again, even though his proposal was defeated by a 3-1 margin in a workshop last Friday, and never would have made it to the Saturday plenary if Reid hadn't rounded up enough signatures to force it onto the floor of the new Ottawa Congress Centre.

Speaking in favour of his own motion, Reid insisted it was "a hybrid," since one member, one vote would be capped at 400 members per riding, with all other ridings guaranteed the 100 votes they have now.

The defenders of the status quo weren't buying it, with Defence Minister Peter MacKay saying that equality of ridings was not only a founding principle of the reunited Conservative Party, but a fundamental principle of Confederation itself.

MacKay has been at the microphone on this before, when Reid first brought it up at the Montreal policy convention in 2005. MacKay made it very clear then that for all members from the Progressive Conservative side of the House, equality of ridings was a deal-breaker. All hell broke loose, including Stephen Harper famously kicking a chair during a backstage walk-through.

That was in Harper's angry days as opposition leader, long before his current Prozac period as prime minister of a majority government. He may not have a wild side, but in the last six weeks he's certainly developed a laidback one.

But Harper's close entourage was a bit annoyed by the suggestion that Reid, as one of them put it, "was a stalking horse for the PM."

For one thing, it's not in Harper's interest, as he builds a big-tent party, to revisit issues that divide what Conservatives now style their "legacy parties" - Reform-Alliance and the PCs.

For another, there's no leadership race in the offing and won't be until at least after the next election in 2015.

Given the Conservatives' growing to majority status thanks to Ontario and the West, with another 30 seats being added to the House west of the Ottawa River, and with the NDP as the only competitive alternative, it may be another two terms before Harper leaves the scene.

If Reid was a stalking horse for anyone, it was Jason Kenney, the energetic immigration minister, who would have no trouble signing up hundreds of members in countless multicultural communities that answered the Conservative call in the election.

So perhaps what Conservatives were witnessing was a preview of the 2020 leadership campaign between Kenney and MacKay .

If that's the case, Kenney will need better floor manage-ment: the one-member, onevote side was not only clearly outnumbered, but was outmanoeuvred at every turn. Had those people been smart, they would have caved to a motion from Team MacKay that, having been defeated in a workshop, the one-member, one-vote resolution shouldn't even be allowed in the plenary. This would have spared Reid and his supporters the embarrassment of being defeated by a margin of at least 2-1 on a show of hands.

Reid will undoubtedly be back again at the next convention. He clearly does not live in the retail world of his own family business, where if a product didn't move after six years, even after being marked down twice, it would be taken off the shelves, never to be seen at Giant Tiger again.

There were other hardy perennials of Conservative conventions (let's hear it for property rights and marriage as an institution between a man and a woman) that fell to grown-up floor management.

But, unfortunately, a suggestion to form a youth wing, a standard and sensible feature of most parties in the western world, never made it out of a workshop.

Never mind that a cohort of Conservative MPs, including Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and freshman members Kellie Leitch, Stella Ambrose and John Williamson, all cut their teeth in PC youth politics. As did many of Harper's senior advisers, including his chief of staff, Nigel Wright, and deputy chief, Derek Vanstone.

Not to mention conservative thought leaders such as Adam Daifallah and Tasha Kheiriddin.

Youth wings are where parties train tomorrow's leaders. Twenty years ago, at Tory meetings, you knew these kids were going to take over the world. And they have.

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