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St. John Telegraph-Journal, March 19, 2003

Tory leadership candidate strikes a chord with Canadians

by Janice Harvey, "A Civil Society"

Eight years ago this month I started writing this column for this newspaper. Under the heading, 'A Civil Society,' I have tackled a wide range of controversial issues, challenging the status quo, mainstream thinking, and the exercise of power both locally and globally. I don't know whether to be surprised or not, but last week's column, "Only David Orchard can redeem the federal Conservative party" elicited by far the greatest number of reader responses of the 380 or so columns to which my e-mail address has been attached over the years.

Obviously, I struck a nerve, as has David Orchard.

To recap my major points, over the past 20 years, the override of the public interest by corporate interests has been unprecedented in scale and scope. Federal politics was high-jacked by the Business Council on National Issues (now the Canadian Council of Chief Executives), through their agent then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and institutions that defined our culture and our nation were crippled or dismantled.

I argued that far from using the Tory leadership campaign to pursue a 'special interest' (opposition to NAFTA and other sovereignty-threatening trade agreements), Mr. Orchard's pro-Canada position is deeply rooted in the Tory tradition on which Canada was founded. Those who defend the disintegrating forces of free trade, deregulation and privatization ushered in by Mr. Mulroney, are the true special interest pleaders in today's Tory party.

It is they who have recast the Tories in a new role which is out of sync with the party's traditions. More important than the internal logic of the party, however, this corporate agenda embodied by the Conservatives (I can't bring myself to call them progressives), is seriously out of sync with Canadians. The annihilation of the PCs in the 1993 election and the subsequent characterization of Mr. Mulroney as the most hated politician in Canadian history was a less-than-subtle message from the electorate.

This analysis resonated with readers to the extent that many were moved to write. Here's a small sampling of what I read:

From Mr. Perras in Alberta: "Without David as leader none of us [referring to a number of friends] would even consider voting for a traitorous party like the present PCs. Particularly galling is the reality that [the PC party] still defends the policies of the discredited Mulroney administration, undoubtedly one of the most hated governments in Canadian history... If the PC party is to survive as a viable alternative it must change by embracing its historical past. It must believe in something near and dear to all Canadians, the concept and reality of Canada itself... In my travels I have found that many Canadians feel exactly the same as I do. This is why the Orchard leadership bid has struck such a chord with me..."

From Mr. Butler in Vancouver: "I think you wrapped up...everything that Mr. Orchard has been fighting for over the last 18 years.... This issue...lies at the very heart of what is wonderful about Canadians and Canada and what has gone rotten about our leaders."

From Charles H. Tupper, direct descendent of one of the Fathers of Confederation, Premier of Nova Scotia, and for a short time, Prime Minister of Canada: "My great-great-grandfather is rolling in his grave. His great spirit, his vision, more than just alive in me, is eager to cheer David Orchard into the number one spot... I believe Canada is all but a sinking ship if we don't. It is time for me to enter the fray and make every effort in my power to make a difference in hopes that we can turn things back on course with complete integrity. I think the time is right. Disillusion is growing out there and someone's got to do it."

Others who wrote were equally passionate in expressing their dismay at what happened to Canada at the hands of the Tories (and perpetuated by Jean Chretien, I must add), and that Mr. Orchard expresses their own vision of what went wrong and what must be done to fix things. (To be fair, there was one dissenting voice who supports NAFTA and blames the Tory demise on the GST - a gift to the corporations, by the way).

In the Globe and Mail last week, organizers for PC leadership contender Peter MacKay were quoted as saying Mr. Orchard is not a "Tory's Tory," whatever that is. More accurately, Mr. Orchard is not a Mulroney Tory. From what I am hearing, that is the best news for the PC party that has come along since 1993.

According to Mr. Perras, "if ... the Tory party is too 'conservatively' set in it's way and can't change to reflect a Canadian vision, then the country would be better served by not having the PC party... [W]hat David has done so effectively with his leadership bid [is tap] into the Canadian creation of great things from the manure pile of present day political reality. And we are all better off because of his decision to seek the leadership."

People left the Tories for a reason. They have to have a reason to come back. Right now, Mr. Orchard is the only leadership candidate offering that good reason. For that, the party should be thankful.

Janice Harvey is a freelance writer. Her column appears on Wednesday. She can be reached by e-mail at waweig@nbnet.nb.ca

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