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A group of high-profile Progressive Conservatives opposed to the merger of the Canadian Alliance and Tory parties have joined ranks to insist on a national convention to debate the proposed union.

The group, whose names are included on an open letter demanding the national meeting, include current MPs and former Tory party members.

Former Tory prime minister Joe Clark, former Newfoundland Premier Brian Peckford, and current MPs Rick Borotsik and John Herron are among the nearly 200 names on the letter.

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In the letter, the merger opponents write that Canadians from across the country "believe that the current process to extinguish the Progressive Conservative Party and be assimilated into another party is not only unethical, and unconstitutional, but fundamentally anti-democratic."

In an interview, Mr. Herron told globeandmail.com that there has been a "dramatic shift" within the ranks of the Conservatives in the past few weeks in terms of those who are supportive of a merger.

Tories are worried that the new party's policies will not be "progressive in agenda, pan-Canadian or moderate in approach," he said.

Mr. Herron said if the party does not agree to hold a full convention, the fears of those opposed to the merger will be realized--that the process was simply a takeover by the Canadian Alliance party.

He said he and others were extremely disappointed when former Ontario premier Mike Harris announced earlier this week that he was not going to take a run at the leadership. Mr. Herron hopes to see New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord, Tory MP Scott Brison and others in the running, although Mr. Lord has ruled out the idea.

Opposition to the unite-the-right movement has been growing since last month's deal between Progressive Conservative Leader Peter MacKay and Canadian Alliance Leader Stephen Harper to merge the two entities.

Mr. MacKay was heckled last week by anti-merger Tories as he headed into the inaugural meeting of the Yes Committee, which has been struck to oversee the process on the Conservative side.

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"Obviously there's a Yes faction," supporting the merger plan, said MP Rick Borotsik Wednesday. "Our position as the No faction, if you will, is: let's make it a truly transparent process."

The Yes Committee will organize each federal riding in an effort to sell new memberships and implore members to get out and vote for pro-merger delegates at the end of November.

Those delegates will meet by teleconference on Dec. 6, with a two-thirds majority needed to ratify the union with the Alliance, disband the existing PC party and create a new Conservative Party of Canada.

The deal must first be ratified in a vote by Dec. 12.

The letter writers argued Wednesday, however, that the current plan, to hold a virtual convention, goes against the party's long-standing tradition of healthy debate.

"The party must adhere to the highest standards of democratic process. They maintain that the decision to hold a virtual-convention denies the very heart of any democratic party: the importance of debate," the letter reads.

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The opponents say that the proposed process for ratification of the agreement-in-principle arrived at by Mr. MacKay and Mr. Harper in October is a "denial of due process."

They insist that in order for the ratification vote to be fair, the membership of the Tory party be suspended as of Oct. 15 to ensure that "those with an unambiguous commitment to the aims and principles of the party select delegates to discuss and vote on the motion to dissolve the party."

Mr. Herron said that this weekend, the Tory management committee will hold a conference call with the party's national committee, where he hopes the contents of the letter will be addressed.

Meanwhile, Mr. MacKay responded to the letter by saying: "Is there going to be unanimous support for this? Absolutely not.

But everyone will get a chance to debate and vote on the proposal, he added. "It could not be more democratic." Mr. MacKay said after a caucus meeting.

With a report from Canadian Press

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