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Vancouver Sun, Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Orchard adds colour to Tory leadership race

by Barbara Yaffe

Political leadership races are always a challenge for party unity. That's because those vying for the top prize often dislike their competitors but must pretend otherwise.

And so, in the interests of party solidarity, contenders are often seen shaking one another's hands, laughing together and back slapping. In private they vent truer feelings.

You can be sure, for example, that Paul Martin and Sheila Copps aren't pals. But whoever wins the Liberal leadership in November, the other will be effusively offering congratulations.

Likewise, it's debatable whether New Democrat Bill Blaikie was a huge admirer of Jack Layton, but when Mr. Layton won the NDP leadership in January, Mr. Blaikie became his main man in caucus.

In the ongoing Conservative party race to replace Joe Clark, however, dislike of one of the candidates has spilled out of the backrooms and into the public domain.

An active party member wishing to remain nameless, on Feb. 28 filed a formal complaint with the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency against leadership aspirant David Orchard.

The complaint accuses Mr. Orchard of running a registered charity known as the David Orchard Foundation for Canada. It suggests the charity could be in operation "to directly give monies to individual delegates in order to have them attend the Progressive Conservative Leadership Convention in Toronto" in late May.

Raising funds through a charity would, of course, give donors the benefit of being eligible for tax deductions.

When I asked the complainant why a Conservative would turn a gun on a member of his own party, the person replied, "David Orchard is not a Conservative. He is against free trade. He opposes an Iraq war and he's in favour of the Kyoto Protocol."

A campaigning Mr. Orchard, reached Monday about the complaint by phone in Ottawa, was taken entirely by surprise and reacted by laughing out loud.

He then explained the foundation was formed two or three years ago as a research and advocacy group for environmental and globalization issues. But to date it has been inactive.

The candidate said he was well aware it would be illegal to raise money for political purposes through the charity and never had any intention of doing so.

"They'll have trouble finding anything there," he said, adding: "Some people in the party have been trying to pull tricks on me all the way along. Some people in the party don't want me in the party."

This nasty little incident not only shows how aggressively leadership races are fought but also illustrates what a black sheep Mr. Orchard is within the party he calls his own.

More than a few Conservatives are uncomfortable with his decision to run. During a time when the party is receiving maximum publicity, Mr. Orchard is obscuring what the PC label stands for, promoting causes that are more left than right of centre.

Several Conservatives have suggested Mr.Orchard is really a New Democrat, something he vigorously denies.

Rather, the bilingual Saskatchewan farmer maintains he's a true conservative; someone wishing to conserve government institutions in their traditional form, someone who aims to keep Canada Canadian.

The party establishment fears a replay of what occurred in the 1998 leadership race when Mr. Orchard came in second behind Mr. Clark.

In that contest, Mr. Orchard had a top-notch campaign team that sold a surprising number of memberships on his behalf, particularly in B.C. Tories, who hadn't considered him a serious candidate, were aghast.

It's generally believed Mr. Orchard will repeat that strong performance this time, but party insiders are hoping he won't win a first-ballot victory.

If voting goes beyond the first ballot, the plan is likely to be for the other contenders to join forces to ensure Mr. Orchard's defeat.

The six others in contention to lead the party have the sort of pro-business, pro-free trade platform the public would expect a Conservative leader to embrace.

Those annoyed by Mr. Orchard's candidacy really ought to chill out. He not only is making the race among a blur of young men in blue suits more lively but could help the struggling party attract a few disenchanted Liberals.


© Copyright 2003 Vancouver Sun

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