06/11/2011 09:28 EDT | Updated 08/11/2011 05:12 EDT

Red Tory Conservatives Change Rules For Electing Harper Successor

AP File

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA - The old Red Tory faction inside the Conservative party celebrated victory Saturday over a move by former Canadian Alliance members to change the rules for electing Prime Minister Stephen Harper's successor.

The debate had pitted former Progressive Conservative Leader and Defence Minister Peter MacKay against two key figures in the Canadian Alliance movement, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and MP Scott Reid.

Reid and Kenney were seeking to change the party's constitution in order to give bigger riding associations more power, a proposal they said would provide incentive to smaller ridings to recruit members while moving it more toward the one member, one vote model the Alliance had used.

But the proposal theoretically would also have given a future leadership candidate from western Canada or Ontario more power.

MacKay and Kenney are viewed as potential future contenders, as are some of the figures who lined up with each camp: Quebec junior minister Maxime Bernier of Quebec with MacKay, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird of Ontario with Kenney.

The motion to change the party's constitution was defeated by a healthy majority of convention delegates. Tables of Quebec delegates stood and cheered as it died on the convention floor — the province has some of the smallest Conservative riding associations.

MacKay said he hoped that the proposal would not surface again — this was Reid's third failed attempt to alter the leadership rules. In his speech to delegates, he called for party unity.

"It has worked for our party, it elected our leader, it brought us to a strong, stable national Conservative government," MacKay said. "Let's keep a process the works, a process that wins, let's stay together united, let's win more majority governments."

But another proposal, by MacKay's camp, to change the party's governing principles in order to enshrine the concept of the equality of ridings, and prevent any future attempts to change the leadership rules, was also defeated.

Reid said that demonstrated that members wanted to reserve the right to change the formula in the future. Reid had called his proposal a compromise between the concept of equality of all riding associations and a one member, one vote system.

"The fact that this particular version wasn't accepted by delegates today doesn't necessarily mean that there can't be a design that is a better compromise, something that better achieves it, and perhaps somebody else will do that, but the point is that one should always leave that option open and that's what the delegates said today," Reid said.

The debate has been one of the rare glimpses into the different factions that make up the Conservative party. MacKay didn't hide his disdain for Reid's proposal, and noted that he didn't agree with using parliamentary resources to push a campaign — Reid had temporarily been using office letterhead, an email and fax number to send and receive materials.

Some Conservatives close to Harper and from the Reform/Alliance family raise the spectre of an outsider — former leadership contender Belinda Stronach a repeated example — sweeping up "dead" riding associations in order to eke out a victory.

"I've heard it said that we should not fix what is not broken. This system is broken. I know that because I'm the only person in here, I think, who ran a national leadership campaign under these circumstances," said Doug Finley, who had worked on Harper's leadership run and subsequent election campaigns.

"The opportunity for abuse, for improper conduct, for sheer downright cheating is unbelievable."

Still, some former Canadian Alliance MPs and members simply voted against Reid's proposal because they believed it would sow disunity.