David Orchard
The 1998 PC Leadership Race
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Toronto Star, June 28, 1998

More voices just what Tory race needs

by Dalton Camp

"It's official: Joe Why becomes Joe Yes." That cryptogram is from the front page of my morning paper, by way of signalling Joe Clark's formal entry into the contest for the leadership of the federal Progressive Conservative party. The message confirms the puzzlement of journalists as to Clark's motives. Why would a guy like Joe Clark want to become the Tory leader -- again?

One of the thoughts one surely must have, when contemplating a return to politics or to the boxing ring or to any other game, is to think of the competition. This is not in reference to Hugh Segal or Brian Pallister or whoever else may be seeking the leadership, but to the competition for the main job, that of the nation's prime minister. Who does Joe have to take on, in the Big One, to win the prize?

Looked at that way, any red-blooded Canadian with an appetite for politics could feel good about jumping into the Tory leadership race. Once that ordeal was over, the only thing standing in the way would be Paul Martin, the veteran shipping magnate and lonely Liberal heir apparent. Who wouldn't leap at the chance?

The field of candidates is not yet complete. On Monday, David Orchard will announce his candidacy and, maybe after that, the former Reform MP from Calgary, Jim Silye, will declare. There will be more in the race than Clark and Segal.

Orchard, the 47-year-old Saskatchewan farmer and enfant terrible to the Ottawa free traders, will open his campaign in a one-room schoolhouse in Borden, which he attended as a boy. So also did Tory leader and former prime minister John Diefenbaker; Orchard says he sat at the same desk as did the great man in his school days.

The prospect of Orchard's entering the campaign has unsettled some ranking Tories. Two former ministers in the Mulroney government, John Crosbie and Bill McKnight, have given instant non-endorsements. Crosbie told the media he thought Orchard was in the race for publicity. McKnight focused his criticism on the belief that Orchard had no chance of winning. None of this seems to have dissuaded Orchard from trying, and shouldn't.

Last week, in Toronto, he met Senator Michael Meighen, grandson of the illustrious Arthur, who told him what many rank-and-file Tories are saying -- the party needs to have a free and open debate on a wide range of issues. Orchard's contribution to the process could not be other than positive.

The Tory party is not a closed shop, or a secret society. As for Orchard's prospects, as far as Bill McKnight could know, they are no worse than Hugh Segal's were, in 1995, when McKnight and others were urging him to run for leadership.

Argument could be made that the Tory leadership campaign more resembles a softball tournament that the World Series. After all, as has been endlessly reported, the Conservatives don't amount to much, numerically, in the House of Commons. The Reform party, the secret love of the corporate media's editorial boards, are the Official Opposition but the polls show the party is shrinking and not growing -- falling to single-digit support in Ontario -- and the party's leader, Preston Manning, looks more and more like Solon Low, the nearly anonymous Social credit leader, as the days pass. The Tories are, in all the polls, the second choice of those now voting Liberal or NDP.

The Conservatives have problems but their circumstances are by no means as dire as the media would have us believe. Its major problem is no longer the long and lingering shadow of Brian Mulroney, but its problem is in Ontario -- its guilt-by-association with the Harris provincial government. The party cannot grow where it needs to grow to win if it looks and sounds like like a political party of stockbrokers, Godzilla look-alikes and Ayn Rand comic book fans.

The Tories have rarely chosen a leader who was not widely held to be a moderate. In most instances, they have chosen the candidate who appeared to be the nearest the centre of the political spectrum. But these shadings and tints are less important than the present issue of credibility and conviction. In politics, these days, it is war to the knife between credibility and gullibility. The result of the war, so far, has been the triumph of cynicism.

Still, there is a resonance of truth, when one hears it, as there is a dissonance to synthetic posturings, strategic vapourings and opportunistic me-too-isms. The cynicism, however, is such that many wonder if there is not a better market for lies and lying politicians than for the truth, somber as it often is, spoken by those helplessly afflicted by candour and conviction.

The complaints from the party's elders on Orchard entering the leadership race are ill-considered. He serves as an example of someone who aspires to political office on his own intellectual terms. He is as much his own man as was John Crosbie -- which is saying something -- and as he proved when debating free trade, or the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, he can be formidable and impressive.

This is not an endorsement of Orchard, but is meant to remind Conservatives of their need to encourage new voices and other opinions. Like many western Canadians, Orchard opposed Meech Lake. He also opposed Charlottetown, which almost everyone had trouble supporting. He's the first honest-to-God farmer to run for the leadership in memory. But elitists ought not be put off by his occupation; when last I spoke with him Friday, he was quoting Pandit Nehru and some guy named Socrates. The Tories should welcome him aboard; he could make it interesting.

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