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The Western Producer, 21 August, 2003

Orchard hopes to reverse recent PC policies

by Barry Wilson

OTTAWA BUREAU- The Progressive Conservative party must raise the profile of agricultural issues in Canadian politics and re-orient policy to support farmers in the domestic market, says the Saskatchewan farmer who ended up as kingmaker during the last PC leadership convention. Borden, Sask., organic farmer David Orchard, a third-place candidate in the race this year, became pivotal when he threw his support behind eventual winner Peter MacKay.

The price was a promise from MacKay that he would appoint a committee to examine the impacts of the 1989 Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement brought in by an earlier PC government and opposed by Orchard.

Last week, MacKay announced the creation of the trade review committee, now described as a way to investigate how free trade can be improved.

The second promise from the aspiring leader in the pressure cooker of the leadership convention was a commitment to Orchard that the PC party will put more emphasis on agriculture and sustainability.

In an Aug. 14 interview, Orchard said that promise was key to his vision of how to revive the Tory party, which 10 years ago was a majority government and is now the fourth-place party in the House of Commons. It holds just two prairie rural seats, a political grouping the PC party once owned.

Many of Orchard's policies repudiate the actions the Conservatives have promoted and implemented in opposition and government since 1984.

"We have to have a Canadian domestic agriculture policy," said Orchard. "This agreement with Mr. MacKay is to move agricultural issues front and centre and to make it more relevant."

He said many of the members his leadership campaign brought into the party are farmers and ranchers who will make sure the PCs return to their farm populist roots.

Although his issues are not yet evident in party policies articulated in Parliament, Orchard said his agreement with MacKay will allow him to press for policies that:

  • Restore adequate government support programs to farmers. In part because of trade agreements, governments ended such programs as two-price wheat and the Crow grain transportation subsidy.

  • "We really need a policy that would put some of that support back in place," he said.

  • Restore funding for agricultural research and end the growing corporate influence over Agriculture Canada research priorities.

  • Promote a policy, approved by delegates to a PC national convention several years ago, that products containing genetically modified material be labelled and that the government be more cautious about allowing GM products on the market.

  • The party has been supportive of both GM technology and a voluntary labelling system that Orchard finds inadequate.

  • Make sure farmers benefit from trade, rather than seeing trade increase but farm incomes remain static or fall. He advocates an emphasis on supplying domestic demand before pursuing international markets, while allowing foreign product to take significant shares of domestic demand.

  • Support supply management and the Canadian Wheat Board export monopoly in wheat and barley. In the 1997 and 2000 elections, the PC party campaigned on a promise of ending the board's monopoly.

"I think I am promoting policies that will attract rural and farm support," said Orchard.

For the past decade, the Tory policies he is repudiating have not attracted such support, at least on election days.


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