Political leaders are often judged by their first hundred days. Without the levers of government, and burdened by flak over a deal with David Orchard, there was little Peter MacKay could have been expect- ed to accomplish in the summer of 2003. Yet, within a hundred days of being elected leader of the Progressive Conservative party, MacKay had set in motion the process that would ulti- mately result in the loss of his leader- ship and the dissolution of his party.
Post-convention, the Tories under MacKay remained comfortably ahead of the Harper-led Canadian Alliance ”” 16.7 percent to 11.2 percent ”” although both parties were dwarfed by the whopping 54.0 per cent Liberal support in an EKOS poll. The Tories enjoyed a two-to- one margin over the Alliance in second- choice support. In the battle of the parties of the right, Ekos president Frank Graves gave the PC party the decided edge. ”œWhat you have is a reduced core of loyal Canadian Alliance voters who really have very little room to pick up additional support and no sign of being able to capture the public’s attention. The Tories, on the other hand, are now looked at as the only party besides the Liberals who could credibly be seen as forming a national government.”
Harper and his advisers had antici- pated a MacKay win and were particu- larly glad that Joe Clark would be taken out of the equation. Since taking over the Alliance leadership, Harper had become convinced that a deal with the Tories was not only desirable, but essen- tial. One event a few weeks before the Tory leadership convention sealed this conviction. Harper had been leader of the Alliance for more than a year and had invested much of his time trying to build support in voter-rich Ontario. An important test of his progress would be plain to see in a by-election in Perth–Middlesex on May 12, 2003. The rambling southwestern Ontario con- stituency was ideal territory for the Alliance. It was rural, and heavily influ- enced by local farmers who were angry with the Liberal government about the firearms registry. The by-election was a perfect opportunity for Harper to demonstrate he could overpower the Tories in Ontario. The results were Harper’s worst nightmare: the Tories won. Gary Schellenberger bested his Liberal opponent, Brian Innes, by 1,001 votes. The Tory vote was almost double that of the Alliance. And the Alliance received 4,385 fewer votes than they had received in the 2000 general elec- tion. More than any poll or optimistic forecast, the Perth–Middlesex by-elec- tion left a deep scar on the Alliance psy- che. If Alliance couldn’t win seats in Ontario, it couldn’t win government. ”œStephen made the decision he had to merge with the Tories after the Perth–Middlesex by-election,” said Tom Jarmyn, a political adviser from Harper’s staff. There was only one answer to the Ontario ques- tion: an Alliance-PC merger.
It would have been easy for Harper to conclude that the MacKay–Orchard agreement precluded any meaningful liaison with the Tories. And Harper did what he could to use the agreement to split the Tory party and undermine MacKay’s leadership. A weakened Tory party, he thought, would ulti- mately bring the rank-and-file Tories to their senses, and then to the Alliance fold. In the days after the convention, Harper could not resist ridiculing the Tories for moving to the left of the political spectrum. Harper went so far as to refer to the Tories as the new ”œsocialist” party of Canada. Speaking through the media to Canadian conservatives, Harper expressed shock and bewilderment: ”œI think [PC party members] would rather see a conservative alternative ”” a party that works with the Canadian Alliance ”” not a party that works with the socialists. The choice for Tories is no longer the status quo. The choice is a coalition with the Canadian Alliance or a coalition with the Orchardistas.” The term ”œOrchardistas” evoked the memo- ry of the Sandinista National Liberation Front that ruled Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990 and was Harper’s way of saying the Tories had gone ”œrad- ical” and ”œsocialist.”
In the summer of 2003, most com- mentators seemed to accept that a deal between the Alliance and PC par- ties was not going to happen. MacKay made his first next move in a speech to party supporters in mid-June, where he reportedly offered an ”œopen hand” to Stephen Harper: ”œI said the door is open for discussions. I’m not only open; I’m enthusiastic about having discussions with Mr. Harper.” Harper quickly responded: ”œI am encouraged by Peter’s remarks today and his open- ness to discussing a common cause.”
Before the leadership convention, rank-and-file PC party members might have expected that Brian Mulroney, the only Conservative who could compare electoral records with Sir John A. Macdonald, would be angry with MacKay for hinting at cooperation with the Reform-Alliance gang, which had split Mulroney’s coalition. However, Mulroney staked out new ground dur- ing his convention speech. He remind- ed delegates of the damage done by Preston Manning and the Reform party, then concluded it was time to end the civil war and ”œturn the page.”
The first face-to-face encounter between Harper and MacKay occurred without notice or warning. It was late June, only a few weeks after MacKay won the leadership. MacKay approached Harper in the lobby of the House of Commons in plain view of other members. He told Harper that he had just instructed PC party legal counsel to drop a lawsuit Joe Clark had launched against the Alliance in May 2000. MacKay said to Harper, ”œYou and I have to talk.” Harper was taken aback ”” pleasantly so ”” and immediately accepted the offer.
Harper and MacKay met secretly on June 26, 2003. There was no formal agenda. On the table was a discussion about a process by which an agreement on co-operation might be struck. Both leaders agreed to appoint emissaries to initiate ”œtalks” between the parties. The emissaries were to meet over the course of the summer and report back to their leaders on what they thought could be achieved in the short term. Three ground rules were estab- lished for the emissary process. First, the emissaries would be free to explore any and all options. Second, the initiative was to be kept strictly secret. Finally, during the period of secret negotiations, public statements by party leaders and their representatives would refrain from any negative com- ments about each other.
At the outset, both Harper and MacKay were hoping the talks would lead to co-operation in the House of Commons and perhaps a way to deal with vote splitting in the next election. Harper was on record advocating an institutional merger, but he didn’t expect that could be achieved in the short term. MacKay knew the conservative family would eventually reunite, but a merger was not in his thinking in June 2003. Both Harper and MacKay thought the emissary process was an important first step in what would become a multiyear process.
MacKay tapped Bill Davis and Don Mazankowski to be his lead emissaries. Bill Davis had been premier of Ontario and Don Mazankowski, from Vegreville, Alberta, had been a revered deputy prime minister in Mulroney’s administration. The two had iconic status in the party.
They did not come easily to the task, and MacKay and others had to persuade them to accept. Mazankowski had seen many of his colleagues go down to humiliating defeat at the hands of the Reform party in 1993 and felt bitter towards those who he felt had broken up a family compact. Brian Mulroney called from Spain to ensure Mazankowski was on the PC negotiating team. Mazankowski might not have accepted the role had it not been for a chance encounter with Alliance senator Gerry St. Germain in a Winnipeg airport in early August. St. Germain remembers a con- versation that went something like this:
St. Germain: ”œMaz, I hear they’ve asked you to negotiate this thing. Are you going to do it?”
Mazankowski: ”œI don’t think so.”
St. G: ”œI can’t believe you’re not. Do you know that they’re prepared to call it the Conservative Party of Canada?”
Maz: ”œOh, they’ll never do that.”
St. G: ”œBelieve me. I know what they’re thinking and this is a given.”
Maz: ”œOh, they can’t do that.”
MacKay understood that caucus support would be critical to the accept- ance of any agreement. Even though he had agreed with Harper that there would be only two emissaries from each side, MacKay was uncomfortable that his caucus would not be directly represented. Newfoundland MP Loyola Hearn was a trusted confidant to MacKay and could help bring cau- cus on side with an agreement.
Harper’s emissaries were Gerry St. Germain, Ray Speaker, and Scott Reid. Senator St. Germain, the most controver- sial of the three, was also the most per- suasive. He was the only Alliance emissary who had been active in the PC party. His duties as a PC included one term as Member of Parliament, its caucus chair, party president, and senator. In October 2000, St. Germain became the only senator in the Alliance caucus. After Preston Manning, Ray Speaker was the closest thing the Alliance had to an elder statesman. A farmer from Enchant, Alberta, Speaker had served in the Alberta Social Credit cabinet of Ernest Manning and the Progressive Conservative cabinet of Don Getty, had been leader of the Representative Party of Alberta, and was a founder of the Reform party. Scott Reid MP was added as an emissary after MacKay advised Harper that he had added Loyola Hearn to the PC team. He had a reputation for his knowledge of constitutional matters and was not known to make compromises.
The first emissary meeting was held on August 21. It was both historic and emotional for Don Mazankowski. ”œIt wasn’t easy for me to walk into that room and start negotiating because of the old wounds and what they did in splitting the party. But I was also excit- ed and enthused by the fact that we could restore the Conservative Party of Canada.”
While all options were open for discussion, Mazankowski sug- gested, and all emissaries agreed, that the one-party option should be the first priority. The rationale was that a single party would represent the best opportunity to defeat the Liberals in the next election.
It took little time and no debate to choose the name ”œConservative Party of Canada.” Dropping the ”œProgressive” moniker would be viewed by exuberant Red Tories as evi- dence that the new party would be positioned further to the right of the political spectrum than had the PC party. Such an assumption ignored the fact that the term ”œprogressive” had been adopted in 1942, when the party chose as its leader Manitoba’s former
Progressive Party premier John Bracken. Historically the Progressive Party was a closer cousin to Reform than it was to the Red Tories. The new name was hardly a concession on Harper’s part. He always wanted to be part of a single principled Conservative party. Recognizing that some PC supporters would feel slighted by the change in name, the ”œfirst princi- ples” of the new party included a statement that the party would follow ”œprogressive” social policies.
For the PC emissaries, the most encouraging development from that first meeting was an agreement that the new party would follow the aims and principles embedded in the constitu- tion of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. The founding princi- ples of the new Conservative Party of Canada were lifted virtually verbatim from the PC party constitution ”” the same words, in the same order. The aims and principles in the new consti- tution would contain virtually none of the elements fundamental to the Reform party constitution drafted by Preston Manning. There was no Triple- E Senate; no protections for the family unit; no references to democratic inclusiveness, such as referenda; no assemblies or recall; no requirement that allegiance to a constituent would supersede party obligation; and no requirement for balanced budgets. The Tory emissaries had prepared them- selves for a tough negotiation; the first meeting was anything but.
In many ways, the progress was more than MacKay had bargained for. He expected slow and steady progress from his emissaries ”” not a break-through. The PC emissaries were sur- prised at how well the negotiations were going because they had limited insight into what the Alliance team really wanted. Harper knew the Reform party constitution was not the product of a bottom-up populist out- reach; rather, it was a Preston Manning creation, written hastily by one man in an afternoon at a political convention. When all was said and done, Stephen Harper had few firm conditions. ”œWe didn’t give them anything that we did- n’t already believe in,” said Harper staff member Tom Jarmyn.
Inevitably, news of the talks leaked to the media. The source of the leaks has never been identified, but based on his conversations with vari- ous journalists MacKay believes it came from the Alliance camp. ”œThey just about blew the whole thing with the leaks,” said MacKay, who suggested that the half-truths and incomplete information might have made his cau- cus and party officials unnecessarily anxious and uncontrollable. However, given the coincidence that the CBC was holding a conference in the same hotel and at the same time the negoti- ations were underway, it is amazing that both sides kept the negotiation secret as long as they did.
After the talks became public, MacKay issued a news release confirm- ing the discussions. He reiterated the five core values he had communicated to his emissaries and offered his com- mitment that any firm proposals ”œwould have to be considered by my party’s caucus and membership.” MacKay was careful to keep expecta- tions low. ”œIt was more sensitive for us because we were trying to keep the talks quiet. We knew the negotiations might get sidetracked if party members were given incomplete or erroneous information. It made sense to provide details if and when we had a deal,” MacKay said.
Most in the media gave Harper credit for kick-starting the merger discussions, although Harper declined comment because discussions were ”œongoing.” One of Harper’s MPs was at greater liberty to speak and anonymous- ly offered some tough talk to the press: ”œIt is a very serious offer. Brian Mulroney wants it to happen, and so do a lot of other Tories.” Only later would the Tories discover how the Alliance side knew Mulroney wanted it to happen: Mulroney was speaking with the PC team, and also with Harper. He wanted the merger to happen.
The second emissary meeting was held on September 22-23. The six emis- saries were joined by CA lawyer and political staffer Tom Jarmyn, MacKay chief of staff Rick Morgan, PC party national director Denis Jolette, and Belinda Stronach. Of her own accord, Stronach drew up minutes from the meeting; her notes suggested there was agreement on every issue except for what was to be resolved at a third meet- ing, scheduled for September 29. She noted that the PC emissaries were expected to present detailed written pro- posals on the outstanding issues before the next meeting. Alliance emissaries clearly thought they had the makings of a deal. They reported to Harper that a deal was close and would be finalized at the September 29 meeting. However, the PC emissaries still thought substantial issues needed to be resolved, most signif- icantly, leadership selection. While the Alliance side was looking for written pro- posals from the Tory emissaries, none was forthcoming. ”œEverything we gave them was leaked,” said Mazankowski, ”œso we were reluctant to do that.”
The emissaries talked by confer- ence call on September 26. This did not go well. When it became clear to the Alliance emissaries that the agreement would not be ready for signing on September 29, they reacted very nega- tively. In a letter delivered to Stephen Harper dated September 28, 2003, Scott Reid wrote: ”œAs mentioned on several occasions, we have not received a spe- cific counterproposal or statement of position (despite many requests) from the PCs and beyond the statements above, we cannot give any guidance with respect to their position on these issues. The emissaries had contemplat- ed meeting on Monday to sign off on the agreement, but given that there is no such agreement and no proposal from the PC emissaries, we have advised them yet again that we will not be attending any such meeting.”
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Senator St. Germain was worried that the Tory side might be going through the motions without any real commitment to the merger process. He said: ”œAs much as they knew it had to happen, their enthu- siasm was fairly low. Nothing concrete was developing in the negotiations so we put down in writing what we wanted. But nothing was coming from them. We weren’t sure if they really wanted a deal because they didn’t want to show us their cards.” When no written pro- posals came from the PC side before the scheduled meeting on the twenty-ninth, Harper made the decision that the Alliance emissaries should not go to the meeting. If this was brinkmanship, it was coming fairly early in the negotiating process.
MacKay chose to call the bluff. ”œWe were at the negotiating table. They would have to explain their absence.” When Belinda Stronach heard that the Alliance side had broken off talks, she called St. Germain at home the night before the meeting. ”œPut your boots on,” was Stronach’s opening line. ”œI will have my driver pick you up at the airport.” St. Germain was already uncomfortable with the decision not to show up for the meeting. ”œMy feeling was that if we didn’t show up we would lose by default. The PC side was going to the meeting and would be able to claim they weren’t the ones holding things up. So I called Harper and he reluctant- ly agreed that I should go.” St. Germain rushed to the airport and caught the red-eye to Toronto with no time to spare. ”œWhen I showed up the next morning Mazankowski was shocked,” St. Germain recalled. ”œMaz said, ”˜What are you doing here?’ I told him failure is not an option. The whole country is depending on us, otherwise the Liberals will be there for 500 years.”
The issue, in all its nuances, was now in full media play. Harper and his Alliance emissaries were trying to portray MacKay and the PC representatives as indecisive, disorganized, unprepared, and confused. MacKay and his emissaries replied to the Alliance leaks on September 30 with a full media briefing. The PC party press release suggested Stephen Harper was at fault. The accompanying twelve- page PC emissary report outlined that ”œsubstantial progress had been achieved on fundamental issues. These achieve- ments, in our perspective, were mean- ingful and signified to us that the goal of a unified national Conservative Party was within reach and that the two par- ties were closer than ever before to find- ing common ground.” The report described the twelve areas in which agreement was achieved and the two issues that were considered contentious. The first contentious issue was the lead- ership selection process. The second was an Alliance proposal that incumbent MPs be grandfathered as candidates for the next election, which meant existing MPs would not have to face a vote of constituency members to determine who would be the party’s candidate in the next election.
MacKay brought Mazankowski into a PC caucus meeting to explain the progress that had been made and the issues that remained unresolved. ”œIt was a rough meeting,” recalled MacKay. Mazankowski concurred: ”œWhen I took the package to the cau- cus it was not a slam dunk. I remem- ber what Senator Pat Carney said when she saw the wholesale adoption of the PC constitution. She said, ”˜I can live with this. No problem at all.’ But others were very angry, belligerent, and very offensive. Others were opposed, but not as vicious. It was not a pleasant time.”
The emissary report, along with MacKay’s statements to the media, per- suaded Harper that the PC team was serious and prepared to deal. ”œAs soon as MacKay sat down in front of the nation- al press gallery and said he was commit- ted, this deal was done,” said Tom Jarmyn. The tone of Scott Reid’s next letter, written to Don Mazankowski on October 3, was decidedly different from the tone of his earlier letter to Harper. ”œI have reviewed your report with my col- leagues and it appears that there is a sound basis for further discussions and a compromise that could lead to our final recommendations to our leader with respect to an agreement in principle…it appears there is only one serious issue to be resolved ”” leadership selection.”
Most mergers begin with a due diligence process designed to expose any hidden secrets or sins the parties might bring with them into the new entity. Rumours of Tory debt were so legendary that some Reformers thought a better merger strategy might be to let their conservative cousins die in bankruptcy. However, there was a surprise for everyone when the books were finally opened up. For the three years up to and including 2003, the Tories had recorded consecutive sur- pluses while the Alliance party had recorded deficits. At the time of the merger, both parties had bank debt of $4 million, although the PC debt was effectively of lower value since it was interest free and payable over the fol- lowing six years. In addition to the bank debt, the Alliance party carried loans from its constituency associations of another $2 million. Because the Alliance books had much higher cash and other working capital bal- ances, Alliance maintained a slightly stronger financial position than did the Tories, but not by much.
On leadership selection Harper wanted a one-member, one-vote system. Under this system, the leader would be chosen by a majority of votes cast. There may have been some flexi- bility around the mechanics of the vote, such as whether it was a mail-in vote, a vote cast in a ballot box, or whether the ballot would be preferen- tial. But absent technical issues, one- member, one-vote was democratic religion for Harper and the Alliance.
MacKay wanted a leadership-selec- tion system that gave equal weight to each constituency in Canada. Under this system, each constituency ”” whether it had ten, one hundred, or one thousand members ”” would get the same number of votes to elect the leader. MacKay argued this system was fundamental to building a truly nation- al party and consistent with how gov- ernments are elected in Canada. Under MacKay’s ”œequal-weight system,” lead- ership candidates would be forced to establish networks and members in every region and riding in Canada.
The positions advocated by the Alliance and PC leaders were not devoid of self-interest. A one-member, one-vote system would naturally favour a western-based leader like Stephen Harper, whose party member- ship and activism were traditionally strong. At the time of the negotiations, there were about 83,000 Alliance mem- bers and only 48,000 PC members. If the memberships of both parties were allocated to individual constituencies under an equal-weight system, the numeric superiority of the Alliance membership would be substantially diminished. A one-member, one-vote system guaranteed Harper the leader- ship. Under a weighted system, MacKay would have a fighting chance.
But self-interest was not MacKay’s primary motivation. He main- tained that the equal-weight formula was a necessary founding principle for the new united party. He said that for the party to be successful, any hint of regionalism had to be eliminated.
”œRegionalism is the root cause of how we got ourselves in perpetual opposition,” MacKay said at the time. ”œWe must found a truly national party where every region of the country is fairly represented. The leadership-selec- tion formula must reflect the way we elect the House of Commons. No rid- ing gets half a member. No riding will be shortchanged in this new party.”
The emissaries tried and failed to reach an agreement on the leadership- selection process. It was the only area of contention and the only issue over which voices were raised at the negoti- ating table. Ultimately, it was up to the leaders to negotiate face to face to resolve the leadership-selection issue.
On October 8 Harper revealed the extent of his desperation to get a deal with MacKay. Without any pre- arrangements, Harper followed MacKay to the Ottawa airport and then got on the same Toronto-bound flight. MacKay saw Harper when they were both off the plane and asked, ”œAre you stalking me?” Ignoring the quip, Harper replied, ”œWe really should talk.” A meeting was arranged for later that evening at a hotel suite under the name John A. Macdonald.
MacKay and Harper met alone. Harper suggested various compromises on the leadership-selection issue, but MacKay stood firm. Harper, known for his steady stare, looked directly at MacKay to gauge his resolve. MacKay stared right back and without flinch- ing said, ”œThis is my stepping-off point. The party will respect the equal- ity of ridings or there will be no merg- er.” Harper did not say yes or no.
Just before Thanksgiving week- end, Harper spoke with MacKay and offered to accept the equality of rid- ings, but with a formula that would be determined only at the party’s found- ing policy convention. Again MacKay said no. Both leaders decided to take the long weekend to reflect.
Besides leadership selection, Harper was holding out on a clause that would have grandfathered sitting Alliance MPs as the Conservative party candidates in the next election. Bill Pristanski, Mackay’s campaign chair, and Rick Morgan thought MacKay might get the leadership-selection terms he wanted if he gave in to Harper’s demand for the grandfather clause. Pristanski called MacKay to urge him to compromise but was promptly rebuffed. ”œI am not giving the Alliance anything more than I have already,” replied MacKay. Pristanski called a few of his Alliance friends and asked them to alert Harper that he would have to accept what was on the table or there would be no deal.
MacKay spent a comfortable Thanksgiving weekend at his Nova Scotia home. The line in the sand had been clearly drawn, and MacKay, convinced that he had offered Harper the best deal possi- ble for the country and for conservatives, was at peace with himself. Harper had the more difficult task over the Thanksgiving weekend ”” either accept MacKay’s vision for a national party, or fight the next election against another conservative party. Harper sized up the risks and went through his analysis. ”œStephen had the longer-term view in mind,” said Harper friend and CA strategist John Weissenberger. ”œIt was better to get a deal than to get a deal that was good for us. It was a calculated risk to accept the PC party rules.” That didn’t mean Harper thought the equal-weight leadership selection process was a good idea. He still doesn’t.
In his admiring and well-researched biography of Stephen Harper, William Johnson lavishes praise onto Harper for being principled, inflexible, and clear-headed. Yet when it came to the governance of the new Conservative party, Johnson wrote, Harper demon- strated a different persona: ”œHarper may have the image of an inflexible, ideolog- ically driven politician; he was proving to be the opposite in these negotiations where he, rather than the Tories, made all the compromises.”
MacKay did not feel pressured to compromise. He was comfortable driv- ing a hard bargain. The pressure came only when it looked as if Harper was ready to let him have everything he had asked for. MacKay said, ”œSince the con- vention, my life was made miserable from all sides. My own loyalists were furious with me for having done this Shakespearean tragedy. They thought I had poisoned the chalice and that this would preclude me from unifying the party in any way, shape or form. Then as things progressed, and the quiet dis- cussions with the Alliance leaked out, the old Red Tory element, some of whom were with me, were incensed that I would even entertain talks of doing this. Then you had the Orchard faction that was screaming blue bloody murder for any thought of talking with Alliance. Added to that were the people who were close to me, including my father and girl- friend, who were saying, ”œ”˜What the hell are you doing?’”
MacKay discussed what he should do with Brian Mulroney. The advice he received was to overlook the criticism and ”œbring the family back together.” Whenever MacKay felt hesitant about moving forward with the negotiations, Mulroney was there with encouragement and support.
Others in the party were critical of MacKay’s willingness to discuss merger with the Alliance. The critics included Senator Lowell Murray and former leader Joe Clark, who saw Reform and Alliance as mortal enemies. MacKay wanted to get past the emotional baggage the party had been carrying since 1993 and to focus more clearly on what was right for Canada. MacKay concluded that the civil war, that then turned into the cold war among conservatives, had to end. ”œAs I look back on it now,” said MacKay, ”œthe thought of handing away my leadership just wasn’t in my mind. I was thinking about how we could do this properly and cement the foundation back together for the long run; not for a quick fix. We had to do this right so it wouldn’t fall apart or leave a sour taste in everybody’s mouth.”
The fateful telephone call from Harper came in the early morning of Tuesday, October 14. Both men were in their constituency offices, Harper in a Calgary strip mall and MacKay in a New Glasgow strip. The leaders proceeded clause by clause in a sombre and busi- nesslike manner. As they arrived at the section of the document that dealt with leadership selection, Harper paused. ”œI have been thinking a lot about this. We have made a lot of progress,” said Harper. ”œThis is a very historic decision,”
MacKay replied. Signalling that he was accepting all MacKay’s conditions, Harper said, ”œWe should do this.”
In the end, Harper had given every- thing MacKay could have asked for. Harper had a blank cheque from his cau- cus to negotiate a deal and he ultimately sought only two conditions. First, the parties had to merge; and second, there had to be a leadership contest. This was a far cry from what Harper had offered Joe Clark in 2002. Effectively, MacKay could have imposed whatever terms he wanted, and that’s exactly what he did. But he still had a decision to make. While he knew a better deal would not be possible, the enormity of the decision gave him pause. Was this the right thing to do for his party? Was this the right thing to do for Canada? Was he prepared to give up his leadership six months after it had been won? Was he prepared to face the ridicule that would come his way over breaking his agreement with David Orchard?
The leaders had agreed. It was left to the lawyers to work into the night and put it all down on paper. MacKay and Harper made their way back to Ottawa, and the agreement in principle was signed on Wednesday, October 15, 2003. Far from a glittering affair and media spectacle, the signing took place at Alliance party headquarters at 10:30 in the evening. It almost didn’t happen because the elevator carrying Stephen Harper and his staff to the signing cere- mony got stuck between floors. The parties that had been divided for two decades would have to wait another ten minutes for the elevator to come back into service. MacKay arrived at the meet- ing on crutches, having been injured in a Thanksgiving weekend rugby match.
Stephen Harper was downright glee- ful when he announced the merger of the parties to the press on October 16. The painfully reserved and often emo- tionless Harper declared: ”œI could hardly sleep last night. It is like Christmas morn- ing. Our swords will henceforth be point- ed at the Liberals, not at each other.” Sensing that many members of his party would receive the news with mixed feel- ings, the usually jocular and energetic MacKay was more reserved: ”œThis is something that, when I began in June to pursue, quite frankly I didn’t think it would go this far, this fast.” MacKay asked party members to ”œjoin us in this historic initiative.” MacKay told the press it was a tough decision to make, but what he signed was ”œnot only an agreement in principle, it is a principled agreement.”
With the agreement done, the next deadline to meet was December 12, 2003: the date when the ratification of the agreement by party members must be completed, or the agreement would be null and void. The heavy lift- ing was far from over.
Reprinted with permission from Full Circle by Bob Plamondon, Key Porter Books Ltd., copyright 2006.