David Orchard
The 1998 PC Leadership Race
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Editorial: Saint John Times Globe, August 31, 1998


PCs shouldn't ignore Mr. Orchard's views

The federal Tories took a great, democratic leap forward in deciding to hold their most open leadership convention ever.

But some of the candidates have failed to take that democratic thinking to its logical conclusion.

The big difference in this leadership race is that for the first time, the federal Progressive Conservatives will allow anyone who buys a party membership to vote for the new leader. Shell out $10 and you too can have a say in choosing the man whom Elsie Wayne says will be the next prime minister of Canada.

They've abandoned the delegate selection process that has long been a staple for their party and most political parties, and although the new approach is not without its drawbacks, it is a welcome development to open up this venerable party. But if the party is to attract new members, even if some of them are of the instant variety, surely the men who are vying for their vote and lasting allegiance should deal with issues and arguments, not the slogans and sweet-talk of an ad man.

Yet the candidate who most wants to talk about his ideas is dismissed summarily by his rivals simply because his ideas are unorthodox -- or rather, so orthodox that they've been supplanted by new conventional "wisdom."

This candidate is Saskatchewan farmer and anti-free trade activist David Orchard.

David who?

Mr. Orchard came to modest prominence in the mid-1980s as a leader of the grassroots campaign that fought against the Free Trade Agreement with the United States, and then continued the fight against NAFTA. He is also an environmentalist and an organic wheat farmer. He also knows a lot about how some other countries are doing some things differently than Canada does -- and better.

His views on free trade -- that it undermines Canadian nationalism and sovereignty -- harken back to the founder of the Tory party, this country's first prime minister.

Yet two weekends ago, when the Tory candidates gathered here in Saint John for a barbecue hosted by interim party leader and Saint John MP Elsie Wayne, Mr. Orchard's views provoked hardly a response worth noting from his rivals.

Could it be that they are ignoring him because they do not relish the alternativ of actually debating him? Or do they think that by simply downplaying the contrast between his ideas and their own, he will lose credibility as the odd man out?

Mr. Orchard's ideas challenge the status quo within Canada and within the party that last held power under Brian Mulroney. If his analysis is so wrong, he should be an easy target for worthy opponents. If he has contributions to make, his rivals should trim their sails accordingly. But to let his views pass with as little comment as they have from the other camps is disappointing.

We notice with interest an item in a national newspaper late last week that Mr. Orchard's team is signing up Tories in droves.

One wonders if the Tories will be in for a surprise as the campaign enters the fall, and the man they've treated as if he's out in left field moves closer to centre stage.

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