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The Vancouver Sun, April 19, 2003

Maverick has Tories all bent out of shape

by Barbara Yaffe

Progressive Conservatives have a long tradition of backstabbing one another and are proudly continuing the practice in advance of choosing a new leader.

David Orchard, one of seven leadership candidates, has traditional Tories breaking out in hives because he's showing unexpectedly strong support in the run-up to voting day, June 1.

By way of vigorous membership recruitment and novel policy positions, Mr. Orchard is repeating his 1998 performance in the contest to beat Joe Clark. Much of his support has derived from British Columbia.

The renegade Conservative forced a second round of voting and ultimately lost to Mr. Clark. He later failed to win a seat as a Tory in the ensuing election.

Back then, Mr. Clark labelled the soft-spoken organic farmer from Saskatchewan "a tourist in the party." That's because Mr. Orchard opposes free trade -- a Conservative initiative. He also favours left-leaning policies more associated with New Democrats.

For example, he's a strong environmentalist, a pacifist and a Canadian nationalist suspicious of U.S. encroachment.

Most Canadians might think Conservatives would be fretting about their ultimate survival in the war of attrition with the Canadian Alliance.

Or about the fact most of the leadership wannabes lack political experience or fluent French.

But no. The party's biggest problem, it would seem, is Mr. Orchard. A Web site dealing with the leadership issue (www.torydraft.com) has even coined the term "Anti-Orchardism." Its discussion boards are filled both with pro- and anti-Orchardism.

One sniping entry on the Web site says Orchard supporters would have to be excluded from a Conservative party event "due to a dress code requiring tie, dress slacks and any type of footwear."

For all the backbiting, Mr. Orchard is running second, behind Nova Scotia MP Peter MacKay, who has 42 per cent of declared delegate support.

The fear is, if voting at the Toronto convention goes to a second round, non-MacKay supporters might rally to Mr. Orchard, favoured by 26 per cent of delegates. He offers a clear alternative to all other candidates.

Indeed, some believe Mr. Orchard is a godsend, that he could take the party back to its centrist "red Tory" roots while showing the door to neo-con blues who really belong with the Alliance.

Conservative veteran John Crosbie says flatly that, if Mr. Orchard becomes leader, the PC party is dead.

The retired politician, a MacKay backer, declared recently: "Mr. Orchard is not a Conservative."

If he wins, "support for the party would disappear and that would be the end of us. That would be a disaster."

Mr. Crosbie isn't alone in that opinion. As of last week a letter began circulating within the party taking direct aim at the black-sheep candidate.

It says Mr. Orchard's "influence in the party over the past four years has been very damaging."

And should he win the top job, the result would be "unprogressive, economically devastating, reclusive and [would] turn back the clock on the accomplishments of our party."

The letter urges party members to pledge that: "No deal, concession or compromise be made with David Orchard in order to either secure his support or guarantee his victory at the convention."

And that "every effort be made by the opposing leadership camps to NOT hand Mr. Orchard a victory, or even allow him any influence in the party should his leadership bid fail."

It's not known how many party members have signed the pledge. But calls to me suggest the written entreaty is making the rounds.

Mr. Orchard may pose a challenge to his party's future. But, it must be said, to date he has injected the only bit of humour and interest in what otherwise has been a remarkably boring leadership campaign.


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