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National Post, Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Farmer and free-trade foe runs again

by Sheldon Alberts, Deputy Ottawa Bureau Chief

OTTAWA - David Orchard, the Saskatchewan organic farmer and anti-free trade activist, announced yesterday he will run for the Progressive Conservative party leadership amid charges from an opponent that he is a special-interest candidate who has no place in the party.

David Orchard at Ottawa Press Conference - January 21, 2003 Mr. Orchard, who finished second to Joe Clark in the Tories' 1998 leadership race, said he is making another bid because he believes Canada's sovereignty is threatened by increased economic integration with the United States and the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"I think free trade could be a good idea if we actually had it. I would be in favour of free trade -- free trade which preserves Canada's power and independence," Mr. Orchard, 53, said at an Ottawa news conference. "But there are clauses in the Canada-U.S. trade agreements that in my view are not related to free trade and which are jeopardizing our sovereignty, our prosperity and our future well being."

Those remarks sparked an angry rebuke from Jim Prentice, a Calgary lawyer who launched his own leadership bid last week. Mr. Prentice, a former national party treasurer, said Mr. Orchard should quit the party because of his opposition to the free trade deals negotiated by Brian Mulroney, the former Tory prime minister.

"There is no room in the Progressive Conservative party for a leader who doesn't believe in free trade. I think that David Orchard represents a special interest group," Mr. Prentice said. "He is not going to win the leadership of this party, and I think his views are quite inconsistent with the views of the Conservative party. I think he should be wondering why he is even in the party."

Mr. Orchard's activism has been a sore point for senior party officials since his emergence in 1998 as a well-organized and articulate opponent of NAFTA.

While his anti-NAFTA, pro-Kyoto policies are more popular within the NDP, Mr. Orchard says he is a true Conservative in the tradition of Sir John A. Macdonald, who opposed free trade with the United States. "I don't feel like a fish out of water ... I would say I am right in the mainstream of historical Tory tradition and historical leadership of the Tory party," he said. "This idea that you can't debate ideas -- whether it is trade or anything else -- in a political party is, frankly, very narrow-minded."

Mr. Orchard said he opposes talks aimed at forging a coalition or unity with the Alliance party. "I heard some of my colleagues mentioning that they wanted to reduce the distance between the Conservative party and the Alliance party. My goal is to reduce the distance between the Conservative party and Canadian people," he said.

© Copyright  2003 National Post

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