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TORONTO (AP) – The leader of Canada’s main opposition party has made a conditional offer to step down, a top Canadian Alliance official said Sunday.

Stockwell Day proposed taking a “leave of absence” instead of resigning outright, as demanded by critics including 13 of the 66 Canadian Alliance members of Parliament, said John Reynolds, the party’s leader in the House of Commons.

Reynolds said Day’s offer called for an interim leader to be appointed, with Day formally resigning as Canadian Alliance leader in April, when the party is scheduled to hold a national conference that includes a leadership review.

Day, a former preacher and auctioneer who was treasurer in the Alberta government before winning election to lead the Alliance a year ago, has been under increasing pressure to step down over accusations that he is unqualified and autocratic.

A member of the party’s national executive committee said Saturday that some members of the nine-member panel drafted a letter demanding Day’s resignation, but that the letter had yet to be sent.

With members of the national executive committee joining the 13 Parliament dissidents against Day, his ouster became imminent. The offer made public Sunday by Reynolds was considered an effort by Day to avoid being forced out immediately.

Reynolds said Day wanted to take a leave of absence, instead of resigning outright, to prevent divisions in the party from worsening.

“If he did (resign) there’d have to be a leadership contest, and I don’t think that would be good for us at all,” Reynolds said. “We’d be into a very divisive leadership battle, and this way here we’d get away from that.”

Day’s opponents say the Alliance needs to get rid of him now to avoid disintegrating. Alliance support in opinion polls has fallen to 10 percent or less after hovering around 25 percent at the end of 2000.

Under the proposal, the 13 Alliance dissidents would have their suspensions from the party’s Parliament caucus lifted. They were kicked out of the caucus for publicly calling for Day to resign.

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The Canadian Alliance was created last year as a vehicle for merging Canada’s fractured political right. Instead, it so far has illustrated how deep the divisions are between social conservatives of Western Canada and fiscal conservatives of vote-rich Ontario and points east.

Under Day, all but two of the 66 seats it won in November came from provinces west of Ontario – Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia – while the Liberal Party won a third straight Parliament majority with 172 of the 301 House of Commons seats.

The Alliance’s inability to prevent the Liberals from winning 100 of the 103 seats in Ontario kindled criticism of Day that grew into open revolt.

Reynolds said Sunday that the Alliance would work to form some kind of merger with the Conservative Party before the April convention, when members could vote on such a proposal.

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