06/04/2013 05:05 EDT | Updated 08/04/2013 05:12 EDT

Conservative Leadership Rules: Struggle Among Ranks Pits East Against West

OTTAWA - A chronic struggle within Conservative ranks over leadership rules has resurfaced in advance of the party convention later this month, pitting east against west and Red Tories versus Canadian Alliance stalwarts.

Two resolutions up for debate in Calgary would fundamentally alter the way leaders are chosen, and theoretically favour future contestants from Western Canada.

One resolution, from an unidentified riding, would give each party member a vote in a leadership race. A similar resolution was defeated at the last convention in 2011 after a sometimes passionate debate on the floor.

"Democracy is best served when members serve the leader and when leadership candidates seek support from and serve the membership," reads the resolution.

Another similar resolution would give more weight to larger riding associations in a leadership vote.

When the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties merged in 2003, a central part of the agreement was that each riding association would be given an equal say in a leadership vote.

The idea was that the riding associations in Western Canada with thousands of members would not be able to swamp the smaller ridings in areas such as Quebec and Atlantic Canada. The issue has been characterized as a deal breaker by some well acquainted with the merger.

"If it's a clear win for the one-person, one-vote, I think it does have the potential sadly to have been constructively divisive," Conservative Sen. Hugh Segal said in an interview.

"It indicates that some ridings that happen to have a large membership because of where they are and how they are located will always be able to push around ridings where we have a smaller membership."

Quebec and Atlantic MPs and former red Tories such as Segal and Defence Minister Peter MacKay are strongly opposed to changing the concept of equal ridings, and helped to soundly defeat the same sorts of motions in 2011.

Calgary-based Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Ontario MP Scott Reid — who was directly involved in the party merger — have been associated with the one-member, one-vote side of the debate.

Kenney, Baird and MacKay's names have all been raised over the years as potential successors to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

With the convention in Calgary this year, Segal says there's a potential for the vote to go the other way.

"There's no question that those who are for the one-person, one-vote will have an advantage in Calgary," Segal said.

Segal says the system for selecting a leader should mirror the way ridings are represented equally in the House of Commons, regardless of their population size.

"Any distortion that gets in the way of that equality will be ultimately problematic for the party," he said.

"My experience in Conservative party politics over the years tells me that one should never underestimate the ability of our own membership to make profound mistakes."

Reid and Kenney did not immediately respond to a request for comment when The Canadian Press contacted them Tuesday afternoon.

Longtime party activist and adviser Yaroslav Baran says there are legitimate points of view on both sides, but he predicts the status quo will win out.

"It won out the last time, and I would suspect that the longer our party has been in government and making policy decisions based on issues such as national unity and pan-Canadian solutions, it might have allowed some former proponents of change to approach these kind of motions in a more holistic or pan-Canadian manner."

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