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
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
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.