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Western Producer, January 30, 2003

Orchard only farmer in PC leadership race

by Barry Wilson (Ottawa bureau)

When Saskatchewan organic farmer and anti-free trade campaigner David Orchard joined the race for the Progressive Conservative party leadership last week, he made the farm economy something of a poster child for his platform.

The North American free trade deal is not working, he argued. The persistent and regularly unsuccessful American attacks on the Canadian Wheat Board are proof of that.

Liberal cutbacks on spending and aggressive deregulation are wrong. Torn-up rail lines, abandoned grain elevators and rural depopulation are proof of that.

Liberal environmental policies are deficient. The federal support for genetically modified crops and lack of support for organic production are proof of that, said the only farmer in the PC leadership race.

He also railed against Liberal strategies at World Trade Organization negotiations.

Orchard, trying for the second time to win the PC leadership, told reporters in Ottawa that his policies, condemned by other leadership candidates as being too left wing and nationalist for modern Conservatives, were in fact part of mainstream Tory thinking before former prime minister Brian Mulroney.

Most leaders of the party back to John A. Macdonald "had a vision of a great nation and not a satellite power," he said.

Nova Scotia MP Peter Mackay and Calgary lawyer Jim Prentice also have joined the race to replace leader Joe Clark at a convention in late May. Nova Scotia MP Scott Brison is expected to join the race to lead the fifth place party in the House of Commons.

Orchard is the only PC leadership candidate so far with a detailed agricultural policy.

He argues against approval of more GM crop varieties, a "backing away" from existing GM canola, soybean, corn and potato varieties, more federal support for organic agriculture and more international emphasis on Canadian organic produce.

He also argues that Canada should increase domestic farm supports and use that as a bargaining tool at the WTO negotiation.

"Instead of whining about our competitors, Canada should simply restore its farm support with the pledge to our competitors and trade partners that our support will be phased out at such a time as and in lock step with reciprocal reductions on their part," Orchard says in his farm and trade policy.

At his campaign launch news conference, he said Canada should abandon the North American Free Trade Agreement in favour of rules under the WTO.

But at WTO talks, Canada must become more aggressive, he said.

Despite complaints by his critics that he is not a genuine Conservative and is trying to hijack the PC party with his anti-free trade organization, Orchard came second in the 1998 PC leadership race.

He ran as a Tory in Prince Albert in 2000 and fared poorly but won more votes than any other PC candidate in Saskatchewan.

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