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Vancouver Sun, April 29, 2003

Orchard candidacy provokes Tory nastiness

by Barbara Yaffe

Something is going on in a Conservative riding association on Vancouver Island that doesn't pass the smell test. Predictably, that "something" is connected to David Orchard's leadership campaign.

For those not closely following the Tory race to replace Joe Clark, Peter MacKay is favoured to win a Toronto vote on June 1. Of course, SARS could affect attendance, and voting results. Most believe Orchard delegates are sure shows, SARS or no SARS.

Mr. Orchard, an organic farmer from Saskatchewan, is in a fairly strong No. 2 spot. Throughout the lacklustre campaign, he has received more publicity than other candidates because he has assiduously been playing the role of mouse in a cheese factory.

That is, Mr. Orchard has a whole lot of Tories in a tizzy. They see him as a New Democrat in Conservative clothing, and believe if he becomes leader the party will die. Accordingly, some nastiness has been directed his way.

Mr. Orchard acknowledges his conservatism is different than that of his six competitors -- but says this serves to offer Conservatives a broader choice.

Specifically, Mr. Orchard is more left-leaning, viewing himself a traditionalist, in the manner of John Diefenbaker. He opposes the free trade accord with the U.S. -- a Conservative initiative and source of huge pride in the party. He spoke against the Iraq war and considers the environment a top priority.

Mr. Orchard has zero interest in breaking bread with the Canadian Alliance and believes a party in the moderate middle is best positioned to electorally challenge the Liberals.

All of which brings us back to that Vancouver Island North riding association.

The riding, stretching from Comox to Port Hardy, is the only one in B.C. not to have had a delegate-selection meeting in preparation for the leadership convention, delegates being the ones who vote. The cutoff date for such meetings was April 10.

Had the riding held its meeting, eight of its 10 delegates would have been pro-Orchard. In fact, 72 per cent of delegates from Vancouver Island are Orchardites; 55 per cent of B.C. delegates are Orchard supporters.

The decision to scotch the delegate- selection meeting reflects "shameful behavior and dirty tricks," contends Orchard campaign worker Craig Mcguigan, coordinator of student services at Nanaimo's Malaspina College.

And why was the meeting scotched? Riding president Ken Dawson says cryptically, "abusive phone calls and unacceptable behaviour" forced the cancellation. He won't elaborate, but a March 16 e-mail to area PC workers regarding the riding provides clues.

The e-mail, written by Garry Holland, president of the Saanich-Gulf Islands riding association, says Vancouver Island North riding members complaining about the meeting's cancellation "are all new members of less than three months, and we have investigated thoroughly to learn they are ALL members of the NDP and are all supporting [David Orchard.]

"These people have taken their gutter-fighting to our party headquarters with a dishonest spin on their motives."

Indeed Mr. Mcguigan has written to party secretary Dominique Bellemare about what he terms "irregularities."

"Rumours abound of petty and deceitful behavior across the country. I am deeply concerned that the process is already hopelessly tainted."

Mr. Mcguigan, a Tory since 2001, says he's concerned the party's reputation as well as the integrity of the leadership convention is at stake.

"The party is doomed to the political sidelines if it does not become a more welcoming environment for a wider constituency." In other words, Orchard supporters must stop being shunned.

While new members may in fact have been recruited in the Vancouver Island North riding, as Mr. Holland asserts, that's what's suppose to happen during leadership campaigns.

Mr. Mcguigan maintains recruitment of NDPers to the Tories wouldn't be feasible because NDPers like their own new leader, Jack Layton.

Whatever the story behind the story, Mr. Mcguigan is correct in his concern about fair play. Vancouver Island North Tories have been denied the right to send delegates to the convention.

In the end, this can only hurt the party and its next leader, probably Mr. MacKay. There's now doubt he'll be able to say he won fair and square.

© Copyright 2003 Vancouver Sun

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