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Globe and Mail, March 11, 2003

Orchard a strong second in Tory contest

by Brian Laghi

OTTAWA -- Tory maverick David Orchard has startled his foes in the race to replace Joe Clark by finding himself within striking distance of front-runner Peter MacKay.

With the race just under way and 5 per cent of the delegates to the May convention elected, Tory officials said yesterday that Mr. Orchard, an activist against free trade and a controversial member of the party, is running close behind Mr. MacKay.

The race, still in its very early stages, sees Mr. MacKay with the support of 71 declared delegates and Mr. Orchard with commitments from 54.

Nova Scotia MP Scott Brison has 20 delegates; Alberta lawyer Jim Prentice has two, and Quebec MP André Bachand has one.

The 15 delegate-selection meetings so far have taken place in only four provinces: Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Nova Scotia. There are almost 290 meetings to come.

Still, Mr. Orchard's early performance confirms the view of those who say he has an outside chance of winning and making the party over in his own image. He is a strong opponent of the North American free-trade agreement with the United States, a deal put together by the administration of former Tory prime minister Brian Mulroney.

Kevin Gallagher, who is Mr. MacKay's Ontario campaign chairman, urged small-c conservatives to take out memberships.

"David Orchard is out there and organized, and if people want this party to remain PC, they better buy memberships."

For his part, Mr. Orchard said yesterday the party must change the road it is on if it wishes to improve upon the historic low totals of popular vote that it polled in the last election.

"If the party is going to reconnect with the Canadian population, it has to have something new to offer," he said.

"If we're to continue with the same path, there's a problem. I offer something new, and I would say I am the only one of the contenders that offers a new look at some of these issues."

Steven Patten, a political scientist from the University of Alberta who specializes in conservative politics, said he does not believe Mr. Orchard can win.

But some party members may be concerned about him because his candidacy could leave confusion in the eyes of the public about what the party stands for, Prof. Patten added.

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