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Justice Minister Peter MacKay at the Conservative party convention in Calgary, Nov. 1, 2013. (Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Justice Minister Peter MacKay at the Conservative party convention in Calgary, Nov. 1, 2013. (Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

At convention, Conservatives decide against changing leadership rules Add to ...

The Conservative Party has stuck with the status quo on how it will one day select the successor to leader Stephen Harper.

Two proposals were rejected during the party’s convention Friday, each of which would have overhauled the present leadership race system that caps the number of votes each riding can have, in a bid to weight each riding equally.

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Media were barred from the vote, but delegates said the motions were voted down by a large majority – anywhere from 3-to-1 to 5-to-1.

In a leadership race, the current system allocates 100 points to each riding, meaning a winning candidate needs support from across the country. It’s been favoured by many Tories outside of Western Canada, including Justice Minister Peter MacKay, who spoke to delegates Friday as the proposed changes were considered.

"I think the party was very clear today. They said that this is a formula that wins, this is a formula that works. It mirrors our electoral system," Mr. MacKay said Friday after the vote. "And so I'm very pleased and somewhat relieved that we have stayed with a winning formula that reaches out to all corners of the country."

One proposed change would have made membership races “one member, one vote,” meaning every vote counts the same. But that would have favoured candidates from Conservative strongholds, such as Calgary, who could run up the score in one region rather than campaigning broadly.

Another proposal would be assigned up to 200 points per riding, in places where many members were signed up, but no fewer than 100 points, the current standard. It was seen as a compromise proposal, but was also voted down. And Mr. MacKay said even minor changes weren't acceptable.

"It's whittling away on a principle, essentially. And once you break the principle - it was a principle, quite frankly, that goes back to the very origins of the party. It's what Stephen Harper and I sat down and discussed among many other issues at the time of reunification of conservatives," he said.

The federal NDP chose their new leader, Thomas Mulcair, in 2012 using a "one member, one vote" system. Justin Trudeau was elected leader of the Liberal Party of Canada earlier this year in a system that weights votes by electoral ridings.

Senator Claude Carignan, a Quebec delegate and the Harper government’s leader in the Senate, welcomed the rejection of the proposals. “Very, very happy. Because I think that each riding needs to be equal, and it was a part of the deal when we merged the parties [to create the present-day Conservative Party], and we have to respect that,” he said.

It’s not the first time the proposals have been put forward. They are seen to favour, among others, ridings in Alberta where hundreds of delegates could be signed up.

“We’re a little bit tired of being defeated, but the reality is that’s not going to stop us from doing the right thing. Which is instituting the one-man, one-vote system,” said Micah Steinke, a delegate from Edmonton who pushed for either change along with a loosely organized group called Grassroots Canada. He spoke in favour of either change Friday.

He likened it to a federal election system that stopped voters at the door on election day once a certain number of votes had been cast. “Can you imagine how ridiculous that would be? Yet here we have a party that actually has that entrenched into our constitution. Unbelievable. It’s truly unbelievable,” he said. He pledged to raise the issue again at the next biennial Conservative convention.

Mr. MacKay hopes that isn't the case, noting this is the fourth Conservative convention where the issue has been discussed.

"It's time to move on and have discussions on other issues," he said. "I think there's also the frustration of people saying 'come on, you know, it's groundhog day. We've done this. Let's talk about other things.' And there's lots to talk about."

Before Friday, the second day of the convention in Calgary, Mr. MacKay – a Nova Scotia MP – had led a charge against the change, but one delegate said many of the prominent faces that called for the change hadn’t waded into the fray this time around.

“This is an issue I’ve supported in the past. Many of the folks who’ve traditionally campaigned on this issue, organized on this issue, solicited votes on this issue, just decided to let it rest on this convention,” said Conservative delegate Vitor Marciano, a long-time party organizer who now serves as press secretary to the leader of Alberta’s opposition Wildrose Party. “There wasn’t an organized campaign on the side of the change. There was obviously an organized campaign on the side of resisting the change, but that’s fine. It’s democracy.”

The convention concludes Saturday. The Prime Minister is set to deliver the keynote speech Friday evening.

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