David Orchard
The 1998 PC Leadership Race
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Praire Dog, (Regina, Sask.) August, 1998

Oh, To Be a Country Again... David Orchard Has a Dream


by John Warnock

Worth Quoting: "The Conservative Party cannot grow where it needs to grow to win if it looks and sounds like a political party of stockbrokers, Godzilla look-alikes and Ayn Rand comic book fans." -- Dalton Camp, former president, Progressive Conservative Party, commenting on Orchard's candidacy. "Mulroney was an aberration." -- David Orchard

On June 25, in the same one-room prairie schoolhouse where both he and former Tory Prime Minister John Diefenbaker learned about Canada, David Orchard announced that he wants to lead the federal Progressive Conservative (PC) Party. A farmer from Borden, Orchard is best known around these parts as the leader of Citizens Concerned About Free Trade. While he says he sat in Dief's desk as a student and he has since picked up both Dief's debating skills and a strong knowledge of Canadian history and political economy, not everyone is charmed by the new candidate.

Many of the Tories' old guard are appalled that he is running. John Crosbie, a Mulroney cabinet minister who debated orchard on free trade, calls him a "kook". Alf Bentley, a party stalwart from Saskatoon, says his candidacy is "a joke." Bill Knight, another Mulroney cabinet minister, says Orchard is just out for publicity. Grant Schmidt, well-known Tory from Melville, says he will quit the party if Orchard wins.

So what's a veteran free trade foe doing running for the leadership of Brian Mulroney's party anyhow?

"Mulroney was an aberration," Orchard argues. "Historically the Liberal Party has been the party of Free Trade. The Conservative Party is the party of John A. Macdonald, who along with George Etienne Cartier made this country. They did not want to see Canada absorbed into the United States. That's why they felt it was necessary to have a strong federal government."

A New 'National Policy'?

The conservative establishment in Canada is pushing hard for the PC's to merge with the Reform Party, to create one party on the political right. Orchard believes that "if the PC's try to out-Reform the Reform Party, they are doomed." Canadians, he argues, are desperately looking for a political part that opposes continental integration. "This is a golden opportunity for the PC's, but they must return to their past traditions."

Orchard's campaign stresses four themes. He says we need a "new National Policy" t stop the takeover of Canadian industry by American corporations. On the prairies, he says, "the Canadian Wheat Board was created to allow Canadian farmers to control the grain industry. Now, with the attack on the Wheat Board under Mulroney and Chretien, the giant American agribusiness corporations are moving in. We need policies which would prohibit Archer Daniels Midland from taking over United Grain Growers."

The second plank in his platform is opposition to the devolution of powers from the federal government to the provinces. He campaigned against the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords. He says they represented a "mortal weakening of the national government", which he argues is "the only institution that speaks for all Canadians." A weak federal government cannot build a strong economy or stand up to the Americans.

Orchard might not fit the conventional definition of a "red Tory", but he may the closest thing to a green one yet. "I have been an organic farmer for twenty-three years," he told me. "We must resist the corporate domination of the food system. We do not need corporate hog barns. We don't need biotechnology," he says. "It's a major ecological threat." "We need to protect our forests. We don't need clearcut logging. We don't need environmentally destructive mega-projects, like the Rafferty-Alameda Dam. And we don't need to turn Canada's north into a nuclear waste disposal site."

Orchard also says we need to change the way elections are financed. "Quebec is moving in the right direction," he adds, "prohibiting parties from accepting contributions from corporations and trade unions and limiting individual donations to $1,000. We should move toward a system where most election financing comes from public funds."

A Nationalist Vacuum

The Reform Party made a good showing in Saskatchewan in the last federal election. How does Orchard see them? "Originally, the Reform Party was a populist movement opposed to the policies of the Mulroney government. But that has changed. The Reform Party today is promoting the same policies as the Mulroney and Chretien governments. By supporting devolution of powers to the provinces, they are breaking up the country. As for their economic policy, they have no vision of Canada as separate from the United States."

"I recently spent thirty days traveling around British Columbia. I had eleven public debates with representatives of the Reform Party," Orchard said. "Their support was very shallow." In Kelowna, Orchard received two standing ovations. "I debated local MP, Darrell Stinson. He didn't even have the support of his own party members. People are looking for a real alternative."

In Regina, even members of the New Democratic Party (NDP) are joining the PC's to support Orchard for the leadership. I asked him why he thinks NDP supporters are backing him. "A lot of it has to do with the lack of leadership on the issue of free trade," he argues. "It began in the 1988 federal election, when the party under Ed Broadbent refused to make the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) a campaign issue. By default, they allowed John Turner to take the lead on the central issue of that election."

"On the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), the federal NDP has taken a strong position in opposition in the House of Commons," admits the Tory leadership ▀hopeful. "But on the other hand, at the national convention of the NDP in April, 1997 they changed their policy which opposed the FTA and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). They took the position that globalization is a fact of life and that the two existing free trade agreements are here to stay."

"I don't agree with that position at all. The MAI is just an extension of the FTA and NAFTA," says Orchard. "There is a fundamental contradiction in the NDP policy, and I think a lot of their members understand that."

A Very Long Shot

Does Orchard have any chance of winning the Tory leadership? Everyone says he is a very long shot. But who knows? The party changed its constitution recently and now all party members can vote for the new leader at polling booths in each riding. The first vote is to be on October 24, with a run-off by preferential ballot on November 14. Many right-wing Tories have already quit to join the Reform Party. Rumours are that the party's membership has declined to around 12,000. Orchard is getting very large crowds wherever he speaks. Everyone knows where he stands. Say what you will about David Orchard, he is certainly not part of the political or economic elite. The Progressive Conservative Party says it wants new faces. Well, they've got one.

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