David Orchard
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The Daily News, March 31, 2003

Not your typical Tory
He’s not my choice, but Orchard may just be what the party needs

by Sherri Aikenhead

While the rest of the world wrestles with the complexities of the war in Iraq, a group of seven Tories are wandering across the country trying to talk Canadians into joining the Progressive Conservative party.

It’s no small miracle that they can get people out to a meeting, given their standing in Parliament and other, more pressing, matters. Still leading the pack is Pictou County MP Peter MacKay, unofficially boasting 405 supporters, David Orchard isn’t too far behind at 258, and my favourite, Scott Brison, a potential player on the second ballot, trails with 121.

On the surface, MacKay looks like a shoe-in May 31. He has out-organized and outsmarted everyone from the start with his carefully scripted campaign. His biggest bang has come with his tough stance on us supporting the American military in Iraq. I don’t doubt he believes we should be sending troops, but he’s also staked out a position that must be attractive to those Alliance voters he’s ultimately hoping to attract.

Intelligent, articulate

The only threat to MacKay’s crowning seems to be an intelligent and articulate organic farmer from Saskatchewan whose support continues to grow. David Orchard, 53, claims to have backing from a list of people that reads like a Canadian Who’s Who. Stompin’ Tom Connors, artist Robert Bateman, Calgary industrial magnate Bob Blair, the head of Nova Corp., and even Canadian literary icon Margaret Atwood.

I met Orchard many years ago in Alberta when he was promoting his book questioning North American Free Trade Agreement. Back then, he was well-spoken and earnest. Many saw the activist as a true Canadian wrapped in a flag. No one expected he would one day enter politics intent on becoming the prime minister.

He still doesn’t strike me as an obvious opponent to Paul Martin, but he’s tapping into a segment of the population that has drifted away from the New Democrats. Orchard, who went to the same one-room school house John Diefenbaker attended, is talking to capacity crowds in British Columbia, where he is strongest, and will arrive in the Maritimes this week. He’s got two delegates from the South Shore, and claims a provincial minister “from down East” is about to publicly support him.

Orchard ran for the leadership in 1998 and lost to Joe Clark, so it should surprise no one that he’s highly organized. He’s also passionate about Canadian sovereignty, and that attracts newcomers to the party.

But his message is one that would make lifetime members such as Brian Mulroney rip up their cards. He wants to re-examine the North America Free Trade Agreement, and founded the lobby group Citizens Concerned about Free Trade.

Rumblings of an Anybody-But-Orchard campaign are easy to pick up. They will no doubt help MacKay, too. One prominent Tory told me Orchard is finished if the leadership goes to a second ballot. He doesn’t reflect real Conservative values, he charged. He’s beating economic nationalism and limiting our ties with the U.S. He’s even gone so far as to suggest Canada have its own domestic automobile industry. Come on!, the Tory lamented.

No, Orchard isn’t a typical politician, and he’s not your traditional dyed-in-wool Tory. But that’s what I find interesting about his strength in the race. He opposes Canada supporting a war that is, as he puts it, “contrary to international law.” He wants a blue-ribbon commission to examine the impact trade agreements have had on our sovereignty, and he not only supports our own automotive industry, he wants to boost the Canadian ship-building industry. He’s got huge support from environmental activists, and that’s what scares the party establishment.

‘Ludicrous statement’

Orchard pooh-poohs the attacks that he’s not a real Tory or a closet New Democrat.

“That’s a ludicrous statement. A political party wants membership across Canada. Any party that restricts itself to one stripe that may be part of the PC face is a recipe for death,” he said in an interview.

“I represent the hope beyond the wagon ruts we’re in, and want to widen the party.”

Therein lies the real choice for Tories. Their party has been dropping for 15 years when they boasted almost 5.7 million votes in 1988 under Brian Mulroney. With Joe Clark out of the way, they have a golden opportunity to choose someone who will save them from further oblivion.

If the five long-shot candidates decide they will throw support behind MacKay on a second ballot, Orchard won’t be the one to do that.


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