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
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
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
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
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.