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Vancouver Sun, Saturday, January 25, 2003

Maverick Orchard shakes up Tory race again

by Barbara Yaffe

There's a big black sheep in the little flock of candidates vying to lead the Conservative party. His name is David Orchard, and he stands out for several reasons.

First, he's definitely not your typical lawyer or politician fighting for the top prize. He's an organic wheat farmer from Saskatchewan, as keen to chat about the evils of genetically engineered foods as taxation or debt reduction.

Second, Mr. Orchard, 53, defines his conservatism differently than his fellow candidates. He's no admirer of former Ontario premier Mike Harris or Alberta's Ralph Klein.

Rather, he says, he's a classical conservative in the tradition of John Diefenbaker. He wants to work for the common good and maintain the country's institutions. He's not into privatization or public sector downsizing.

Mr. Orchard is often pegged as a New Democrat in Tory clothing, a flaming tomato-red Tory with a left-leaning platform and a hearty mistrust of U.S. intentions.

He's also viewed as a nuisance by some. Just this week, fellow candidate Jim Prentice remarked Mr. Orchard "should be wondering why he is even in the party."

And yet, here he's the only individual to be taking a second crack at becoming Tory leader -- "because I didn't win the first time."

Mr. Orchard in fact is something of a Tory-come-lately, buying a membership just before participating in the 1998 contest. Back then, his upstart organization sold a surprising number of memberships. And in a one-person, one-vote system, that's how leadership races are won.

His team sold so many memberships in B.C. and Saskatchewan that his candidacy forced a second round of voting, embarrassing Joe Clark in the process.

Mr. Orchard ultimately came in a distant second to Mr. Clark. (Later, in the 2000 election, he ran unsuccessfully in the riding of Prince Albert.)

Mr. Clark has come to embrace Mr. Orchard, reasoning that his unusual philosophical bent might help broaden the Conservative base.

There may be something to that. As Mr. Orchard notes, "There aren't enough conservatives out there to elect a government. We have to reach out to the broad spectrum of the political centre."

Mr. Orchard is far and away the most fluently bilingual of the six leadership candidates, except for longshot contender Heward Grafftey, a retired Quebec politician in his 70s.

In the current campaign, Mr. Orchard once again promises to play the role of outsider. His campaign will be run at a fraction of the cost of the others'. But a repeat performance on membership sales could complicate the race for the more mainstream candidates.

One of his key issues is Canadian sovereignty, which he believes is threatened by U.S. corporations buying up Canadian companies, a weakened military and a trend toward opening the Canada-U.S. border.

He says Canada needs to make significant changes in the North American Free Trade Agreement to safeguard its interests -- even though the deal is continually advertised as one of his party's greatest achievements.

Mr. Orchard notes that increased trade with the U.S. has put Canada in an untenable position because it's too afraid of biting the hand that feeds to act independently.

And he wants his party to remain as far away as possible from the demon Canadian Alliance. The voters, he insists, are in the centre.

This, of course, conflicts with more pragmatic Conservative thinking that cooperation with the Alliance, which might not be the party's first choice, is both necessary and inevitable.

Mr. Orchard unequivocally opposes war in Iraq and is a devotee of the Kyoto Protocol.

While MPs in the Tory caucus and party establishment types have not rallied to his cause, Mr. Orchard has the backing of several high-profile new members he has recruited: Author Margaret Atwood, artist Robert Bateman, Stompin' Tom Connors, former Noranda chief Adam Zimmerman and retired Nova Corp. CEO Robert Blair.

Almost certainly, Mr. Orchard won't win. He's too much of a maverick.

What he will do, though, is make this race - being fought by a clutch of like-minded, blue-suited lawyers and business types - just a little less predictable.

© Copyright 2003 Vancouver Sun

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