TORONTO - A months-long dispute within the Progressive Conservative ranks has resurfaced in a complaint to Ontario's integrity commissioner.

The governing Liberals are accusing right-wing Conservative Randy Hillier of "abusing taxpayer dollars" and using public resources for partisan activity -- a claim the Tory rebel denies.

Liberal backbencher Rick Johnson, who sent a letter to the commissioner last week, complained that Hillier used his website and legislative resources to help a friend who's seeking the nomination in a riding held by a fellow Tory.

Jack MacLaren, who is seeking the party nomination in the Ottawa-area riding held by longtime Tory Norm Sterling, sent out a campaign email Feb. 10 that contained links that were routed through Hillier's constituency website, the letter said.

The commissioner needs to clarify whether MacLaren's email account is being paid through Hillier's constituency funds -- an "improper use" of resources that are meant to be non-partisan, Johnson said.

It also casts a shadow on the reputations of other members of provincial parliament, he said.

"I want to find out what's going on," Johnson said.

"We've had calls to our office saying, 'Is this appropriate?' I'm surprised that (Tory Leader Tim) Hudak isn't dealing with it himself, because we all know the rules about what we are allowed to do and we are not allowed to do."

Hudak refused to say whether he planned to rein in Hillier, whose support for MacLaren has created tension within the Tory caucus ahead of the Oct. 6 election.

"Sometimes nomination battles can get heated," Hudak said.

"There's a lot at stake because people want to make change in the province and be a part of the next government. I think it's important for us to focus on defeating the (Dalton) McGuinty government and bringing change to our province."

It's the latest twist in a longstanding squabble between Hillier and Sterling, a former cabinet minister who accused Hillier of trying to help MacLaren -- a fellow property-rights activist -- oust him from the riding Sterling's held for 33 years.

Sterling has vocally complained that Hillier is helping MacLaren's campaign, and even suggested that rural activists within the Ontario Landowners Association -- which Hillier helped create -- is seeking control of the party.

The rift widened when Hillier's friend, Conservative MP Scott Reid, wrote a letter to a Toronto newspaper in December accusing Sterling of neglecting his constituents in Carleton-Mississippi Mills.

Johnson said he feels badly for Sterling, a former cabinet minister and veteran of Ontario politics.

"I've seen a person who's been in this legislature for 34 years being, for lack of a better word, attacked in his own riding," Johnson said.

"And they're using inappropriate methods to go about it that we're not allowed to do as MPPs."

Hillier denied he did anything wrong, but refused to comment further.

"I've had no involvement whatsoever," he said last week. "But once I see the letter then I'll respond to it."

Hillier's spokesman later said it was a technical mistake by Hillier's web provider, William Ross Solutions, which accidentally routed the links in MacLaren's email through Hillier's account.

The company later apologized in a Feb. 11 email to Hillier, saying it's taken steps to correct the mistake and "prevent it from ever happening again."

Calls seeking comment from Sterling were not returned.