National Post, 21 August, 2003
Saskatchewan farmer speaks out about controversial backroom deal with
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
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
"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
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
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."