David Orchard
The 1998 PC Leadership Race
  Contacts Schedule What You Can Do ! Home Français

St John Telegraph-Journal, August 26, 1998 (In the Toronto Star as "When Elsie calls, Tory hopefuls answer.")

An apple with a core

by Dalton Camp

David Orchard stirs debate and, more importantly, has something to say.

The five candidates for the leadership of the federal Progressive Conservative party were summoned to Saint John last weekend by the party's interim leader, Elsie Wayne, who is a former mayor of the old Loyalist city and likely the least beatable member in the whole House of Commons. In this first-time joint appearance of the Tory five, Elsie presided, in a further episode of what is known in these parts as "Wayne's World," providing barbecued burgers and hot dogs, free pop, coffee, tea, and the invocation, doxology and benediction. The candidates also spoke.

The speculation is that the interim leader who is expected to remain neutral in these proceedings is likely neutral for Joe Clark. At any rate, a majority of the crowd -- well, a plurality at least - was for Mr. Clark. (One way of telling was the many who were wearing Clark buttons.)

It is hard to tell how important these candidate gatherings might be since this is, as the Tories keep reminding themselves, the most open leadership selection process in the entire history of the world. Anyone over 10 may vote simply by buying a membership. Jean Chrétien, by definition, could vote, so could the grandchildren. The maximum cost of a membership is $10.

I doubt the Tories have ever had a contest for the leadership so susceptible to manipulation or so easily influenced by the votes of party card-holders more interested in mischief than in choosing a leader.

I thought of this on hearing Hugh Segal say, with considerable emphasis, he would resist any effort to merge his party with the Reform party, a proposal that is a nightmare to most Tories but remains the dream of some. Earlier, I had heard -- for the first time -- the former Manitoba provincial minister and MLA, Brian Pallister, who described himself as "not the establishment candidate." Instead, he said, "I am the re-establishment candidate."

Mr. Pallister impressed the crowd. Liberal leadership is an oxymoron, he said, "like jumbo shrimp." He stands six-foot-seven, someone claimed, and he is the handsomest candidate of the lot and with an engaging platform personality. Okay, so far?

But he began his speech (after his tribute to Elsie), by telling the audience the people of Canada "no longer feel safe living in their own homes." And he talked about the need for "principled leadership," having i mind, I assumed, himself. And he wanted a party of conservatives, for conservatives, by conservatives. I wished someone would have asked him how he felt about Mr. Segal's unqualified rejection of a "unite the right" movement in the party.

I know only a few strong supporters of unprincipled leadership. And there may well be an epidemic of insecure householders in Manitoba and beyond of which I am not aware. By and large, however, most of that sort of talk is heard from the addled right and from Reformists retailing paranoia among the elderly.

I had heard of Mr. Pallister before, but never of Michael Fortier, a Montreal lawyer with global credentials, whose message was "we need to define what it is to be a Progressive Conservative." Mr. Fortier worries about "debt management," or the lack of it, and about health care and the need he sees to "redefine how we deliver" it. My morning newspaper -- the national edition --apparently in praise of Mr. Fortier, described him in an editorial as "tomorrow's man," an appellation the candidate briskly rejected.

"I am today's man," he declared. My impression, for what it's worth, is that both he and my morning paper are wrong. How about the day-after-tomorrow's man?

After Mr. Fortier and Mr. Pallister spoke, and in more or less pleasing and familiar ways, David Orchard followed. Mr. Orchard creates his own electricity, generated by a relentless and unfamiliar candour, and with an earnest seriousness audiences of committed partisans find unsettling. He warned of "the Americanization" of the party and the country, took some shots at free trade, the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, and the government's recent capitulation to the Ethyl Corp. of Virginia.

Some of his listeners applauded, others seemed puzzled. He told his audience the only way the party could win was to move to the left and to defend Canada's sovereignty.

Mr. Orchard was the only candidate to be heckled -- briefly -- and the only one to be attacked by both Mr. Clark and Mr. Segal, who followed him in the speaking order. And he was praised by the provincial daily the next Monday for being the only man to say anything. After the meeting, I watched a man described as the Young Conservative organization's president in Saint John, approach Mr. Orchard to say "You're a cool dude. You won this thing." To which Mr. Orchard replied, "Why do you say that?" (Whatever else Mr. Orchard may be, a politician he ain't.)

Although the CBC has reported me as an Orchard supporter, I am not. I am among those, however, who felt he would make the leadership campaign more interesting. This is not only because he says things none of the other candidates are willing to say, but Mr. Orchard, because of his intensity and obvious sincerity, makes the dialogue more interesting and more relevant.

The test of this was in the event. After the Rotarian entertainments, Mr. Orchard brought the proceedings to life. Politics in this country has been instructive as to the political value of saying nothing, or in saying what "works" rather than what's wrong.

One reason the party was decimated five years ago was because it fell into the trap of trying to please the corporate press rather than reaching out to people. The campaign, you will recall, was about how fast to cut the deficit (not how), and about the many people who felt unsafe in their own homes. The reward for that campaign has been the wilderness, and a Liberal government the Tories have richly deserved.

Back Top