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Halifax Sunday Herald, April 9, 2003

David Orchard and George W. Goliath

by Silver Donald Cameron

While the guns thunder in Iraq, small rancorous sounds perturb the air in Canada - a contest for control of the fringe assembly known as the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, once the Alternative Governing Party. Oddly enough, the two facts are connected.

You do remember the Tories, right? Two decades back, Brian Mulroney cobbled together a government dominated by hot-blooded Western evangelists, cold-eyed Bay Street money-jugglers and wandering Quebec nationalists. What the Mulroneyites shared was disdain for the institutions that defined Canada, like medicare, unemployment insurance, family allowances, ground rules for foreign investment, Canadian content rules, and crown corporations operating broadcast networks, airlines, railways and oil-fields.

In office, the Mulroneyites dismantled much of the distinctive apparatus of Canadian nationhood, striving to weld us indissolubly to the United States. Canadians, in turn, dismantled the Tories, reducing them from 211 seats in 1984 to just two in the anti-Mulroney firestorm of 1993. The Western evangelists went off to the Reform/Alliance party. The Quebecers departed en Bloc. And we are still not finished detesting Brian Mulroney.

Here is the first irony. The institutions the Mulroneyites scorned - the national railroads, the CBC, the Canadian Wheat Board, the Bank of Canada, protective tariffs, regional development agencies, even Confederation - were often Tory achievements in the first place. Liberals have always seen Canadians as individuals and North Americans; they wanted to make us independent of the British Empire. The Tories perceived us as a unique community in need of unique institutions; they wanted to keep us independent of the American empire.

All of which made Mulroney a startling mutation in the party of Macdonald, Borden, Bennett, Diefenbaker, Stanfield, even Clark. But the boy from Baie Comeau had one golden virtue: his rickety coalition won elections.

Here is the second irony. Five of the six current Tory leadership candidates represent the malodorous Mulroney inheritance. The lesson of 1993 - that Canadians want to be Canadian, and that 57% of us currently want to be more independent of the U.S. - is lost on them. Like the Alliance, they sound like U.S. Republicans in parkas.

The Tory brass regard David Orchard, the sixth candidate - who finished second to Joe Clark in 1998 - as a devious, mock-Tory infiltrator, a "hitch-hiker," a "special-interest pleader." But Orchard, a bilingual organic farmer from small-town Saskatchewan, is the only purebred Tory in the race - and also the only candidate whose philosophy seems sufficiently broad, inclusive and rooted in Canadian values to revive the Tories as a "big-tent" party capable of forming a government.

"Over a century ago, Disraeli set out his guiding principles for Toryism quite simply," says Orchard. "First, to elevate the condition of the people, and second, to maintain the institutions of the country.

"The choice before us is either permanent Liberal rule or a rejuvenated mainstream Progressive Conservative party which steers well clear of the Canadian Alliance. In the last election, far more eligible Canadians didn't vote at all than voted for the Canadian Alliance. Does anyone believe merging with the Alliance will attract disillusioned youth? Aboriginals? New Canadians? Francophones?"

Orchard's supporters include novelist Margaret Atwood, artist Robert Bateman, musicians Stompin' Tom Connors and Anton Kuerti, and former corporate barons Adam Zimmerman and Bob Blair. And the heart of his campaign is our foolishly sentimental attitude to the U.S.

We need to be good friends and trading partners, certainly - but we also need to put our own interests first. NAFTA - a Mulroney project - was supposed to give us guaranteed, regulated access to U.S. markets. Yet softwood lumber, steel and agricultural products face worse harassment than ever. Nova Scotia natural gas fuels industries in New England, not the Maritimes.

Meanwhile NAFTA has given U.S. corporations rights superior to those of Canadian corporations. Their corporations can sue our government for wholly imaginary losses, for instance, and their right to profit trumps our own health and safety regulations. Our surviving corporations have reciprocal rights, of course. Marvelous. A level playing field on which the Truro Tadpoles can challenge the New York Yankees.

Can Canada survive such prolonged erosion of its sovereignty - let alone the "deep integration" now being bruited about by the advocates of national self-mutilation? Their next Big Bright Ideas include a common currency, a shared immigration regime, joint border security, integrated labour markets, harmonized social policy, and unified environmental, health, law enforcement, and foreign policies. Welcome to Puerto Rico North. Subjugation without statehood. And not a shot fired.

The central geopolitical issue for all countries today is their relationship with Rambo America, and only Orchard seems to remember the long tradition of hard-nosed, realistic Tory thought on that topic. On April 9 he was running a strong second, with 454 delegates versus front-runner Peter Mackay's 714.

Can he win? Not likely. But he's still the one potential leader who just might inspire enough Canadians to put the old Tory party back in the running.

Silver Donald Cameron
Box 555
D'Escousse, NS B0E 1K0
fax (902)226-1904
Home page: www.islemadame.com/sdc
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