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The Canadian Alliance has taken a tentative step toward running joint candidates with the Progressive Conservatives, continuing efforts at building a united conservative front in time for the next federal election.

But it is not clear whether the Tories are interested.

Yesterday, the Alliance unity committee put forward four guidelines -- to be presented on Thursday to the party's national council via a teleconference call -- on selecting joint candidates with the Tories in selected ridings.

"Joint candidacy is the least-favourite option from the last survey we put out, but it is one step towards co-operation," said Alliance MP Grant Hill, chairman of the unity committee.

With a by-election looming in Calgary Southwest -- held by former Reform leader Preston Manning, who has announced his retirement -- Mr. Hill said it is important to put boundaries in place. He said the proposal should also help spur co-operation talks, despite the coldness to the joint-candidates idea by Conservative Leader Joe Clark.

"This initiative will be pretty hard to rebuff. If Joe Clark says 'I'm the coalition builder, and I won't accept these guidelines for a joint-nomination meeting,' those comments are completely and totally at odds with each other."

The Alliance suggestions include:

Joint nomination meetings;

Leaders from both parties endorsing nominations;

Candidates declaring the banner they would run under and the caucus to which they would belong;

A one-member, one-vote system for nominations.

"The question as to who runs on what ticket in Calgary is going to be decided by people on the ground in that constituency, and not by caucuses or others in Ottawa," Mr. Clark said.

Chuck Strahl, leader of the Democratic Representative Caucus, welcomed the proposals. "If coalition building is the real goal, then it's important that everyone who's lining up to become a candidate -- for both parties -- in Calgary Southwest start talking about how to co-operate."

The Alliance is considering postponing its election for a new leader until the fall of 2002, although the action would contravene the party's constitution. A motion calling for a postponement of the March vote is to be debated during the teleconference meeting.

Whether the leadership vote is delayed hinges largely on the decisions in the next few days of Ontario's Conservative Party. The provincial Tories are to decide over the weekend the date of a contest to replace Mike Harris as party leader and Ontario Premier.

Ontario Tories have been supporters of the Alliance federally, and many believe the Tory leadership race will take precedence for those supporters.

The first-ballot vote for an Alliance leader is set for March 8.