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A Lanark Landowner's Association sign sits on Randy Hillier's farm near Perth, Ont., on Oct. 10, 2007, before he won a seat for the provincial Progressive Conservatives.Roy MacGregor

Scott Reid, the federal Conservative MP who shares a riding with Randy Hillier, took issue with my column on the latter's feud with Norm Sterling.

Suffice it to say that Reid is not a fan of Sterling, the veteran Ontario MPP who bitterly complained of Hillier's buddies trying to take over his riding of Carleton-Mississippi Mills. When they shared a constituency, Reid writes, "Mr. Sterling was so neglectful that my staff regularly dealt with complaints from constituents that they couldn't get service (or even responses) from his office."

It should be noted here that Reid and Hillier seem to be pretty tight. But from what I can tell, that view of Sterling is not uncommon among Conservatives; although he certainly has his friends, others think he's been mailing it in for years.

That puts him in the same boat, frankly, as a significant chunk of the provincial Tory caucus, which hasn't had a big injection of fresh blood since the mid-1990s. It's a significant problem for Tim Hudak as he tries to present his party as a government in waiting; he'd undoubtedly be very happy to nudge a few of the veterans out, and be able to hand relatively safe seats to new faces.

The problem is that you don't always know what you're going to get. With all respect to Hillier, who in many ways seems to be a good MPP, a party looking to break through in suburbia probably doesn't want to be defined too much by a hard-line rural element, or be too beholden to any one movement. But as evidenced by what's happening in Sterling's riding, that may be what's waiting to take over a bunch of seats - whether it's members of Hillier's Ontario Landowners Association, which is strong in much of eastern Ontario, or other groups inspired by the general anti-incumbent vibe right now.

Senior Tories will say, as well they should, that they support the kind of local democracy on display in Carleton-Mississippi Mills. But I'm not convinced they love the choices being put to their party's members there, or the impact it could have on choices elsewhere.

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