TORONTO - Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is trying to quell concerns that a big rift is developing in the Tory ranks.

Conservative Norm Sterling is apparently fuming about his caucus colleague Randy Hillier, and blames the rural activist for a failed effort to steal his Ottawa-area riding association.

He says Hillier helped his friend Jack MacLaren in a bid to take over the Tory riding association in Carleton-Mississippi Mills, a riding Sterling has represented for more than 30 years.

MacLaren succeeded Hillier as president of the Ontario Landowners Association and plans to challenge Sterling for the Conservative nomination.

A spokesman for Hillier deferred all questions to Hudak, who also declined to speak about the matter.

Instead, his aide emailed a statement saying all three Tories agree that the party is "united and focused" on its goal of defeating the Liberals in the next election.