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Calgary Herald, Saturday, June 19, 1993

Fight for Canada rings bell of alarm

By George Melnyk

Up to now Western Canada has had only one outstanding Canadian nationalist, Mel Hurtig of Edmonton. With this book David Orchard of Saskatoon has become the region's second leading nationalist.

Orchard has written a powerful polemic about Canada's "four centuries of resistance to American expansionism." As the national chairman of Citizens Concerned About Free Trade, he uses this book to launch an all-out attack on the American empire and its latest expression of continentalism — the free trade agreement (FTA).

While Hurtig's books focus on economic issues and are full of statistical information, Orchard's book offers a lively historical account. At least, the first half of it does.

The remaining half is a rather tiresome account of the 1988 anti-free trade campaign and of the negative impact of FTA on Canada since then.

The first half of the text is hot and heavy with drama and slogans as defiant Canadians, starting in the days of New France, repulse one wave after another of land-grabbing Americans.

The pages drip patriotic fervor and make a delightful read as they appeal to political emotions. This would be the stuff of movies, if we had a film industry that had the courage to produce historical epics with an anti-American tone.

Orchard also deals extensively with the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854 that was a form of free trade and lasted until 1866. His account of later attempts to reintroduce free trade, including the failed attempt of 1911, provide good background material for our understanding of the current situation.

The period around Confederation and the acquisition of the West are particularly fascinating.

The treatment of Riel is exceedingly positive, and Orchard makes a great deal of Riel's resistance in 1869/70 to American overtures for Red River joining the United States.

Besides describing American invasions of Canada, the author deals with boundary disputes and such sad incidents as the closing of the Avro Arrow project in the late 1950s, which ensured Canada's subservience in military matters.

He writes about these issues with great passion and a clear vision.

The second half of the book is a dud. In the first half history masks the tone of propaganda, but there is no such mask in the second half. It is out and out polemic.

Orchard, like Hurtig before him, is full of alarm. He concludes that "Canada has gone from being a colony of France, to being a colony of Britain, to being a colony of the United States. It is time now to become a nation."

Since it is relatively easy to abrogate the current FTA treaty if there exists the political will to do so, Orchard — who is convinced that free trade will mean the end of the nation if allowed to continue — calls for a Liberal-New Democrat alliance in the forthcoming federal election to throw out the Tories and end the treaty.

At one time, Hurtig pushed this line, but then he realized it was a hopeless prospect. As a result he formed his own political party, which has just received $4 million in start-up funds from a Manitoba businessman.

This is a timely book written for popular consumption. For true believers, it is a wonderful call to the barricades; for those with a different perspective, it is not quite as appealing.

Wherever one stands on the issue of Canadian nationalism, one must admit that Orchard's text belongs to the great canon of passionate Canadian nationalism.

It is a proud achievement for this fourth-generation Saskatchewan farmer.


Melnyk's latest book is Riel to Reform.


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