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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Pot back to kettle: Now it's David Orchard's turn


David Orchard

Justice Minister Peter MacKay recently wrote a letter to iPolitics in response to an August 25 column by Michael Harris. In his letter MacKay comments on the MacKay-Orchard deal that he and I signed May 31, 2003, giving him the leadership of the PC Party.

Mr. MacKay, referring to the merger of the PC Party with the Canadian Alliance which he engineered along with Stephen Harper, writes that "with regards to Mr. Harris' memory on the merger, it is plainly flawed. After winning the PC leadership in 2003, I publicly disclosed the deal signed by Mr. Orchard wherein he agreed in writing that talks could take place and they did. This was after consulting with caucus, the Senate, House, elected party executives and the 301 riding association presidents, and then holding an inclusive national referendum endorsed by over 90 per cent of the membership. A reunited, competitive federal Conservative party emerged. This restored real democracy in Canada and allowed us to replace a scandal-ridden Liberal government."

A few days earlier, Mr. MacKay's former chief of staff, John MacDonell, commented on the Michael Harris column as well: "Mr. Harris refers to Mr. MacKay's historic role in the merger of the Progressive Conservative Party with the Canadian Alliance, referring to an agreement with David Orchard. That agreement expressly allowed for merger talks with the Canadian Alliance, and following those talks it was not Mr. MacKay who merged the parties, but the members of the parties themselves who made the decision to do so, voting over 90 per cent in favour. That's called democracy, and it is a good thing, Mr. Harris."

In response to both: At no time did I ever agree, in writing or any other way, to allow for merger talks with the Canadian Alliance.

I ran for the leadership of the PC Party in 2003 on a platform of rebuilding the PC Party and expressly rejecting a merger or joint candidates with the Canadian Alliance, a party I saw as far removed from the historic PC Party of Canada and its pro-Canadian nation-building roots going back to John A. Macdonald.

After the first ballot of the leadership convention I was in second place with 640 votes, behind Peter MacKay's 1,080, with Jim Prentice and Scott Brison at 478 and 431 respectively. When Brison was forced off the ballot he threw his support to Prentice and it was clear that I was in a position to decide which of the two frontrunners would become the new party leader.

As a result I was approached with varying degrees of urgency by representatives of both Mr. Prentice and Mr. MacKay. Mr. MacKay's representative was Senator Noel Kinsella (now Speaker of the Senate). Mr. Kinsella approached me and began his proposal on behalf of Peter MacKay. He wanted me to support Mr. MacKay and stated right off the bat that Mr. MacKay would agree to "no truck or trade with the Canadian Alliance." Mr. Prentice's representatives did not make that commitment, although they offered other things.

I let Senator Kinsella know that I also wished to have a review of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and NAFTA, a commitment to greater protection of the environment, and a clean-up at the party's head office. After a brief discussion Senator Kinsella left, telling me he was going to talk things over with his candidate. Shortly after, I received a telephone call from him saying, "We have an agreement."

Soon after Mr. MacKay, Senator Kinsella and Fred Doucet met with me, my brother and campaign manager Grant Orchard, and my senior adviser Marjaleena Repo in my hotel room at the Crowne Plaza. Mr. MacKay and I put our agreement in writing, signed it, shook hands and photographs were taken all around. MacKay commented on the historic pen we had just used. (You can see the signed agreement here.)

The agreement stated right off the top that: "1) No merger, joint candidates w Alliance. Maintain 301." (The original wording of this point one was, "No merger, talks, joint candidates w Alliance. Maintain 301." MacKay asked if we could remove the word "talks" so he could feel free to talk with all parties in the House on a day-to-day basis regarding parliamentary matters. I had no trouble with this and we struck the word "talks" out.)

301 was the provision of the PC Constitution requiring the party to run a candidate in all 301 ridings in the country. It was added to the party constitution in 1999 expressly to prevent any takeover or electoral cooperation with the Canadian Alliance and to keep the PC Party an independent force in Canadian politics.

On the basis of the signed agreement we went back to the convention floor, I offered my support to Mr. MacKay, and the rest is history. With the support of my delegates, Mr. MacKay easily won the party leadership. We made the agreement public right there on the convention floor.

When I met with MacKay some time after the convention, he reassured me that I would have no reason to be uneasy, that he would honour his solemn commitment with me that there would be no merger with the Canadian Alliance. He repeated what he had said throughout the leadership race, both publicly and privately: "I am not the merger candidate." Meeting with his chief of staff, Rick Morgan, a few weeks later, I was once again assured that anything I might have heard about "talks" between the two parties simply involved strategy in the House of Commons. I had no reason to fear anything more.

Some weeks later I heard on the news that Peter MacKay and Stephen Harper would be holding a press conference announcing the merger of the two parties. Later that evening I got a phone call from Mr. MacKay. He had been "true to our agreement," he said. I asked how he could say that when what he was about to do was a complete and utter betrayal of our signed agreement. "I thought you might feel that way," he replied.

As for democracy, the members of the much larger Alliance party voted for the merger in their own party referendum, then flooded into the PC Party, taking out second memberships. They then voted a second time, this time as newly minted members of the PC Party, enabling them to vote our party out of existence. Prominent Alliance members even set up a website,, urging Alliance members to join the PC Party to overwhelm its membership and carry the coming PC referendum.

Thus came about what PC Senator Lowell Murray referred to as a "coup, similar to what we have seen in some countries, when the constitution is suspended and a new order ratified in a quick plebiscite." The historic founding party of Canada the party of Macdonald, Georges-Etienne Cartier, R.B. Bennett and John Diefenbaker, of the national railway, the Canadian Wheat Board, the Bank of Canada, the CBC and the creation of one country from sea to sea ceased to exist. Its name and colours had been stolen by Mr. Harper and the Reform/Alliance party.

Anyone who objected was sidelined. My PC membership was pulled and I was expressly barred from observing the new party's first convention in Montreal. Joe Clark, Lowell Murray, Flora Macdonald, Sinclair Stevens, Norman Atkins and countless other PC members were left without a political home. Mr. Harper went on to mold the party into a right-wing U.S. Republican-style political party that is all about dismantling the national institutions that our founders worked so hard to create.

And Peter MacKay has been right at Stephen Harper's side every step over the last seven years. The idea that Mr. MacKay, as Canada's chief legal officer, can now claim that I "agreed in writing" that merger talks could take place is a blatant falsehood which casts a dark shadow over the credibility of the leading representative of our nation's system of justice.

David Orchard is an author, farmer and political commentator who twice contested for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. He helped launch Citizens Concerned About Free Trade (CCAFT), a non-partisan citizens organization, in 1985. He's the author of The Fight for Canada: Four Centuries of Resistance to American Expansionism.

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