The Ottawa Citizen, Wednesday, January 22, 2003
Can an opponent of free trade save the federal Conservatives?
by Susan Riley
Finally, and fortunately, the official remnants of the once-dominant
Progressive Conservative party have a leadership candidate with
a compelling idea that will differentiate the party from the Liberals.
He also possesses dogged integrity, a rare tendency to answer questions
directly and an ability to communicate his vision forcefully in
English and passably in French.
Unfortunately, that candidate is David Orchard.
It is unfortunate not because there is anything particularly wrong
with Orchard, who launched his campaign to succeed Joe Clark in
Ottawa yesterday. In fact, he is arguably the most dynamic candidate
so far in an anemic slate, if only because he has a clear vision
of what is wrong with the country (and the Liberals) and of how
it can be fixed.
Like Preston Manning, Orchard doesn't come to Ottawa with the
generalized, even fossilized, complaints about Liberal infamy that
most voters learn to tune out, nor is he driven primarily by career
ambition. Both men are Big Picture types. Both have mused long and
hard about the fundamental values and traditional alliances upon
which this country is founded. Both have read history; both are
somewhat nerdish, as far as image goes, but both are serious thinkers
who are vulnerable to being trivialized by opponents and media commentators
more comfortable with the old nostrums. And both, of course, are
from the West.
Orchard, a Saskatchewan organic grain farmer best-known for his
unwavering opposition to free trade -- he placed second to Clark
in the 1998 Tory leadership race on an anti-free-trade platform
-- continues to oppose the trade deal most of the population has
long since accepted, even if reluctantly.
But his message, and his appeal, extends beyond trade to the larger
question of Canada's sovereignty. He is concerned, he told his press
conference, "about our future as a sovereign nation."
Defending that sovereignty, he says, is the "big idea"
that will bring ordinary voters to the Tory fold and distinguish
his party from the "Liberal idea of merging with our southern
neighbour." He links the decline of Prairie agriculture to
the unwillingness of Liberals to match U.S. farm subsidies, and
he laments the sale of some 13,000 Canadian companies to foreign
interests in recent years, our inability to outlaw a controversial
fuel additive over U.S. industry objections and the ongoing pressure
from U.S. timber interests to end public ownership of our provincial
forests. He wants more money for Canada's military, too, which,
Orchard says, is "a key tool to defending and maintaining our
Orchard's case is well-argued and has attracted considerable support
outside official circles, but is it conservative? He was famously
accused by Clark of being a "tourist" in the PC party;
others say Orchard should be running for the New Democratic Party.
But Orchard insists he draws inspiration from the great British
conservative, Benjamin Disraeli, whose goals were to "elevate
the condition of the people and maintain the institutions of the
He portrays himself as a successor to John A. Macdonald, George
Etienne Cartier and John Diefenbaker (once derided as a "Prairie
bolshevik") -- all Canadian nationalists who resisted the pull
towards closer economic integration with the U.S., insisted on an
independent foreign policy and believed in strong national institutions,
such as the CBC and the railway, to serve the collective good. Orchard
insists he isn't the one who is out of step with traditional Tory
values; instead, it is the post-Mulroney Tories, mostly those who
would move the party to the right.
None of which is going to help him win the Tory leadership, given
that it is party members who get to choose. Susan Elliott, the astute
former national director of the party, says Orchard's problem "is
that we are no longer the party of Sir John A. We've changed. We
fought a bitter, heavily contested battle (over free trade) in 1988
and we won. That is deeply ingrained in our souls and I don't think
he can get past that." And if he was to win by dint of recruiting
new members, says Elliott, "it would fracture the party."
At the very least, he will challenge it. Unlike the Clark caucus,
Orchard supports the Kyoto Protocol. He "strongly opposes"
Canadian participation in a war against Iraq. He also opposes the
Liberal gun registry. He isn't a New Democrat, he says. He is a
Tory and always has been. He doesn't want just to lead the Conservative
party; he wants to rescue it.
Riley writes Monday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail:
© 2003 The Ottawa