David Orchard
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National Post, 21 August, 2003

Saskatchewan farmer speaks out about controversial backroom deal with Conservative leader,
MacKay talks"ongoing," Orchard says. Alliance party concerned.

by Bill Curry

OTTAWA - In his first interview since striking a controversial backroom deal with Peter MacKay, David Orchard said yesterday he has been in weekly contact with the new Conservative leader since the May convention and he expects the party to follow through with running candidates in all 301 federal ridings.

Mr. Orchard also said he is pleased with the recent appointment of Tory MP Bill Casey to chair a panel to review free trade.

"It was one that I agreed to and Mr. Casey, I think, is a fair-minded and honourable individual who has an open mind," he said.

Mr. Orchard's comments contradicted those made by Mr. Casey last week, who told reporters Mr. Orchard had "nothing to do" with the panel or his appointment as chairman. Mr. Orchard said while his discussions with Mr. MacKay have not been limited to the free trade panel, he has not rejected any of the new leader's suggestions.

"No, we've discussed the composition of the panel and discussed in general other matters, but no, I haven't been turning anything down. Our discussions have been based on what we agreed to," he said. "We've been in ongoing negotiations and discussions ever since the convention, mostly between his people and my representatives, but we've also met and talked by phone as well," he said, stating the issue of hiring his political organizers at party headquarters has yet to be resolved.

News that Mr. Orchard is closely involved with the new leadership was greeted with "concern" by Stephen Harper, the leader of the Canadian Alliance, who is engaged in his own behind-the-scenes negotiations and discussions with Mr. MacKay about co-operation between the two parties.

I think it's incumbent on party leaders to do what's best for the country, and what's best for the country is that conservatives work together to take on the Liberals, not that conservatives work with leftists to attack other conservatives."

Mr. Orchard, a vocal critic of the Tory-negotiated free trade deal with the United States, became the kingmaker at the convention by endorsing Mr. MacKay on the fourth ballot instead of second-place candidate Jim Prentice.

For days after his victory, Mr. MacKay was on the defensive over pledges he made to Mr. Orchard in order to secure his support.

Their signed, hand-written agreement contained four points. Mr. MacKay promised there would be no merger or joint candidates with the Canadian Alliance; the party would create a blue-ribbon commission made up of jointly agreed-upon members to review free trade; a "cleanup of head office" would occur with "some of David Orchard's people working at head office"; and finally, Mr. MacKay committed to make environmental protection a key party policy.

Since the convention, Mr. Orchard has fallen off the political radar. The fourth-generation Saskatchewan organic farmer said he took a vacation and is contemplating running for the Tories in the next election. But even though he has dropped from the headlines, he has remained in close contact with the new Tory leadership.

William Stairs, a spokesman for Mr. MacKay, said the contacts would be more accurately described as representatives of Mr. Orchard speaking with Rick Morgan, Mr. MacKay's chief of staff, on a weekly basis. Mr. Stairs said he was not aware of any negotiations about environmental policy.

"MacKay is building his party and preparing his party for the next election and David Orchard is part of that whole process," Mr. Stairs said. "He's not the only part; he is not MacKay's major preoccupation by any means and it would be wrong for anyone to suggest that this is a major preoccupation."

In the interview, Mr. Orchard said part of his agreement with Mr. MacKay has been misinterpreted, stressing he does not expect his people to take on senior policy positions at party headquarters.

"We're talking about having organizers, excellent organizers, that are proven and have done an excellent job on our campaign, that some of them will be hired at head office and we still expect that to happen," he said.

Mr. Orchard also said he wanted to correct the impression that Calgary lawyer Jim Prentice turned down his list of demands during the convention. "I can tell you that there's a story that's appeared several times about the notion that Jim Prentice did not negotiate with me or refused my conditions, and I can tell you that is patently false," he said. "Prentice was negotiating with me right along and so was [Scott] Brison, and Prentice was offering the free trade review panel and the cleanup of head office and all of this, so I just want to make that crystal clear that that is not correct. In fact, I was receiving urgent phone calls from him right as we were writing up our agreement between MacKay and myself."

Mr. Prentice, who could not be reached for comment, rekindled the debate over joint candidates last week when he suggested the Canadian Alliance may not run a candidate against him should he run in Calgary and said the party should return the favour in another riding should that occur.

At last week's Tory caucus meeting, Mr. MacKay suggested exceptions could be made for some joint candidates because the party's 301 rule only "aims" to run candidates in every riding. Mr. Orchard said he is reassured by the fact that Mr. MacKay continues to refer to the party's policy on joint candidates.

"That hasn't been something that he's ever said to me; so the party, as you know, has a constitution requiring us to run candidates in every riding and I expect the constitution will be abided by."


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