Joe Clark announced he will step down as leader of the Progressive Conservative party. Clark, who is pro-abortion, was under pressure to resign as Tory leader due to the widespread belief that he had taken the party as far as he could, dwindling polling numbers and growing party infighting.

Clark said he will step down and called for a leadership convention for early 2003. But he also said there were conditions on his retirement from politics including if the Liberals called a snap election or cancelled their February 2003 convention.

One Tory insider told The Interim that Clark has set up several conditions for sticking around that the party is in no hurry to set up its leadership convention. Under one scenario, The Interim was told, if the top candidates to replace Clark would “not respect the integrity of the party,” i.e. support some form of merger with the Canadian Alliance, Clark might announce he is staying on as leader.

The resignation announcement was made amid growing discontent among the party faithful. Edmonton Journal columnist Lorne Gunter noted that Clark’s announcement “put an end to those troubles, but didn’t force him out completely.” Gunter predicted Clark “will hold on tenaciously to the door jam of his office at Tory headquarters until he has no other option.” Why else would his resignation be open ended (he set no date for his departure) and conditional on so many circumstances?

Nonetheless, the announcement has refuelled speculation about uniting-the-right. Alliance leader Stephen Harper suggested the parties co-operate to end vote-splitting on the right to defeat the Liberals in the next federal election.

Former Ontario premier Mike Harris, often mentioned as a possible united right leadership candidate, said that Canadians want a viable alternative to the governing Liberals and urged the parties to put aside their differences. However, leadership hopefuls such as Scott Brison and Peter MacKay, sitting Tory MPs from Atlantic Canada, oppose co-operation. They supported the leftward direction Clark led the party on social issues.

Social conservative leaders are worried that any unite-the-right effort could hurt the causes of life and family. After the 2000 election, several Ontario PCs urged the Alliance to shelve its social conservatism.