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An August 2000 file photo shows Ontario Premier Mike Harris, left, with his Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Norm Sterling.

One of the longest serving members of the Ontario legislature lost a bitter fight Thursday night to run again for the Progressive Conservatives.

Norm Sterling, who has represented the eastern Ontario riding of Carleton-Mississippi Mills since 1977, lost the Tory nomination for the Oct. 6 election to party newcomer Jack MacLaren.

Mr. Sterling had complained the party did nothing while fellow Conservative MPP Randy Hillier helped Mr. MacLaren try to defeat the 34-year veteran of the legislature.

Mr. MacLaren was a former member of the executive of the Rural Landowners Association, the same group Mr. Hillier led before he joined the Conservatives. Mr. MacLaren is a cash crop farmer who lives and works on his family farm.

Even a letter campaign by former premier Mike Harris failed to secure the nomination for Mr. Sterling, who had served in the Harris cabinet.

The nomination fight was a bitter one and Mr. Sterling even suggested that rural activists within the Landowners Association were seeking control of the party.

The rift widened when Mr. Hillier's friend, Conservative MP Scott Reid accused Mr. Sterling of neglecting his constituents.

Rick Johnson, a provincial Liberal, got involved when he sent a letter of complaint to Ontario's integrity commissioner.

He accused Mr. Hillier of "abusing taxpayer dollars" and using public resources for partisan activity - a claim Mr. Hillier denied.

Mr. Johnson claimed Mr. MacLaren allegedly sent out a campaign e-mail in February that contained links that were routed through Mr. Hillier's constituency website.

In a statement Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak welcomed Mr. MacLaren's candidacy and said they would "deliver change that will provide real relief to families, get government focused on the basics and make private sector job creation a priority."

Mr. Hudak also thanked Mr. Sterling for his distinguished career and dedication.

"From the days of the Bill Davis government to today, our Ontario PC Caucus has benefited from his experience, his leadership, his wisdom and devotion to serving the people of Ontario."

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