David Orchard
The 1998 PC Leadership Race
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Toronto Star, Sunday, June 7, 1998

Farmer Activist May Jump Into Tory Leadership Race

by Dalton Camp

People are talking about the Tory leadership race, but not much. What's to talk about? It is generally agreed that Hugh Segal will be a candidate and that Joe Clark might be. Segal will formally announce his candidacy Tuesday. I meet supporters of Clark, some who are former cabinet colleagues and who say they hope he doesn't run.

Just about everyone in the party, and -- I would guess -- most among the general public, would like to see more candidates in the race. Obviously, the Progressive Conservative party needs new blood if not a massive transfusion, not only in leadership roles but in its rank and file. The federal party is in danger of becoming a heritage site or a cult. It needs some new voices which will help widen the agenda and broaden the debate.

In a recent New Yorker piece on Europe, Isabel Hilton writes, "(T)he distinctions of left and right no longer mark the real battle lines. In this post-Cold War era, they lie between those who favour closer integration in Europe, with its progressive pooling of national sovereignty, and those who defend the nation-state."

Much the same case can be made for our continent where Canadians have been steadily yielding increasing portions of their sovereignty as a nation-state to the American alliance and to the growing number of American-inspired acronyms of which MAI (Multilateral Agreement on Investment) is merely the most recent. Many Canadians are becoming increasingly concerned about this seeming inexorable slide "down the slippery slope," in John A. Macdonald's description, toward American absorption.

Last week, I had two lengthy telephone conversations with David Orchard who, according to The Globe and Mail, is one of two Canadians largely responsible for the failure here in Canada of the MAI initiative (the other was Maude Barlow). And of course, Orchard had been perhaps the most persistent opponent of the Free Trade Agreement and remains so. Orchard called to say some people had seriously suggested he run for the Tory leadership. What did I think of that?

Orchard considers himself to be a Canadian nationalist which, he maintains, has been the traditional faith of the Conservative party since Macdonald and until Brian Mulroney. He is the author of The Fight For Canada, a book in which University of Toronto historian Kenneth McNaught describes Orchard, in the preface, as "heir to an old and honourable Canadian tradition: that of the farmer activist."

Orchard works a 640-acre family farm on which he represents the fourth generation. In the tradition of farmer activist, he raised many a hackle during the free-trade debates, permanently unsettling veteran bureaucrat/diplomat Gordon Ritchie in a TV debate. A decade after the encounter, Ritchie bitterly describes his adversary as "a former Saskatchewan farmer named David Orchard who had found he could make a better living as an anti-free-trade crusader. He may not have been much of a farmer and had kept secret any past but he was a highly skilled polemicist."

The last time I spoke with Orchard he told me he had just finished seeding; I gathered from this that he was still farming, had not stopped farming, but Ritchie was still mad. I also learned from Orchard that Keith Davey had invited him to run for the Liberals in 1997 and John Turner had advised him, were he to do so, "to get it in writing" that the Liberal party would consider his policy ideas seriously. Turner further advised Orchard: "Don't rule out the Conservative party."

When told by Orchard he might turn Tory, and seek the leadership, the redoubtable lead that party. Don't jump off the bridge into that mess."

But Orchard is thinking of jumping. Every Tory leader has been a nationalist, he keeps saying, as in a mantra -- Macdonald, Borden, Meighen, Bennett, Diefenbaker, Clark -- Mulroney had been the historic exception. The party had abandoned its tradition and many of its supporters have since fled its ranks. The Tories will never come back unless they return to their roots and acknowledge their history.

David Hugh Orchard and Hugh David Segal are the same age -- 47. It seems to me a debate between the two of these would be worth hearing.

I did tell Orchard the race would be savagely expensive, that the corporate, continentalist press would attempt to marginalize him, but that the country sorely needed other voices to raise those issues most Canadians really do care about. What is largely left, otherwise, is only the constipated rhetoric of Thatcher/Reaganism which now dominates both journalism and party-speak and which may yet be the death of Canadian politics.

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