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John Lynch-Staunton was initially taken aback when it was suggested be become the first nominal leader of the new Conservative Party of Canada, formed through a merger of the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservatives.
"I had a little reticence," he said in an interview. "Would the Alliance people want a Tory senator from Quebec?"
But there was no objection from the Alliance side, and Lynch-Staunton, the official opposition leader in the Senate, ultimately took it as a compliment and a good sign for the merger.
"The fact that a Tory is there at this stage is, I think, indicative that so far it's a merger of equals and not a takeover of one by the other," he said.
Lynch-Staunton will serve as interim leader of the new party until an elected leader is installed in March.
His position is largely a formality required by electoral law, and he jokes that his main function will be to answer the phone on behalf of the party. Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay, leaders of the parties that merged, will speak for the party on political matters.
Lynch-Staunton has long been prominent in Montreal business and political circles.
He is the former CEO of De Kuyper Canada Inc. and served as president of the Montreal Board of Trade.
He was a Montreal city councillor for 14 years beginning in 1960, and served as vice-chairperson of the executive committee under Jean Drapeau.
A devoted Progressive Conservative through the party's lean years in Quebec, he was named to the Senate by Brian Mulroney in 1990.
Lynch-Staunton, unlike some prominent PC figures, was pro-merger all along and feels the new party is off to a promising start.
"I think in time it will become a very credible alternative," he said. "Yes, it'll take time, but they're working hard on it."
He notes that many Alliance people are former Progressive Conservatives, and says the merger is to some extent a family reunion.
"I'm sorry to see that there's no longer a Progressive Conservative Party as such," he said. "But I'm delighted to see that there is a bringing back together of conservatives who did make up that party and allowed it to form a government."
He said he felt a greater loss when the Mulroney PC coalition broke up a decade ago, with western Tories defecting to the Reform Party and Quebec PC support shifting to the Bloc Québécois. "Now I like to think that part of that coalition is coming back," he said.
Lynch-Staunton said recalcitrant Tories, such as former leader Joe Clark and Nova Scotia MP Scott Brison, who yesterday jumped to the Liberals, aren't giving the new party a fair chance.
"All the principles this party stands for are mainly our principles," he said.
"Brison can bitch all he wants, but he has to take things at face value, and that's that the progressive policies of the Tories are for all intents and purposes reasonably well confirmed."