David Orchard
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The Vancouver Courier, April 14, 2003

Orchard planting seeds for run at Tory leadership

by Geoff Olson

An organic farmer from Saskatchewan is hoping to upset the Tories' apple cart.

David Orchard came in second in the 1998 race against Joe Clark, and was famously fobbed off by the jowly one as a "tourist" in the party. This January, Orchard announced his intent to take another crack at the top, at the PCs' June leadership convention.

When I first heard about Orchard's bid for the PC leadership and his support for fair trade over free trade, I had a predictable reaction. Good on ya, Dave, glad to hear it-but using the Conservative Party, that hotbed of radical chic that nursed the U.S.-friendly Mulroney regime to power, to wage war on Washington's trade regime? On the face of it, Orchard's quest sounds as quixotic as Ted Nugent running for the leadership of PETA, or Noam Chomsky signing up with the Navy SEALs.

But sometimes truth comes riding into history on the back of error, as they say. Orchard is trying to steer the old Tory nag back on to its previous, well-worn path.

I was surprised to learn that the Conservative Party rejected early Liberal advocacy of union with the U.S., just as it rejected the free trade agreement negotiated in 1911 by the Liberals under Wilfred Laurier.

The pattern of advocating independence from the U.S. continued through to the leadership of John Diefenbaker, who called on Canadians to oppose "economic continentalism," and the "baneful effects of foreign ownership." Dief was pegged as a "prairie Bolshevik" for his efforts, but he wasn't the last Conservative proponent of an arms-length relationship with the U.S.

In 1983, Brian Mulroney opposed John Crosbie's proposal for a free trade agreement with the United States, and the former lawyer from Baie Comeau was swept to power. In a 2000 article in the Globe and Mail, Orchard explained what happened next: "In office, however, Mulroney reversed his views, broke the Conservative Party's historic position, and ushered in the North American free trade agreement. In 1993, the party was dealt the most dramatic repudiation in a Western democracy, and was reduced to two seats."

The Liberal party learned its lesson well. Correctly gauging the public mood on NAFTA, Chretien ran against it and won. But once in office, the Liberal leader reversed his position on free trade.

You gotta love representative democracy.

My Concise Oxford Dictionary defines conservatism as "a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change." That doesn't sound like anything officeholders of note have been advocating lately, opposition or otherwise. Certainly Joe Clark's moribund party offers no argument against the Liberals' endorsement of GATS, NAFTA, WTO, and the entire alphabet soup of democratically destructive trade mechanisms.

If anything, the PCs in their current incarnation, and especially the Alliance, are the real radicals. Using a clumsy, broad brush of support-for-our-superpower-friend rhetoric, they are seeking to paint Canadian sovereignty into an even tighter corner. Meanwhile, the Near-Death Party holds seances with union leaders, trying to contact the living, when they should be out there spooking us about free trade.

A pox on all their houses, I say. But wait-let's first quarantine that ramshackle PC headquarters. We may want to keep that disinfected for new leadership.

As an organic farmer, the aptly-named Orchard understands the dynamics of growth and change. He knows a thing or two about crop rotation, and I'll bet he knows how grassroots movements can turn a fallow field green. He writes that "the environmental movement, based on the impulse to preserve, is a conservative idea. The liberal free market model... ridicules and opposes this impulse, slashing national institutions, escalating the clear-cutting of our forests, the genetic manipulation of our agriculture and food supply, recklessly revolutionizing without regard for the consequences."

The only question is this: with the bottomless animosity still felt by many Canadians for Mulroney and his '80s regime, are the PCs even salvageable-especially given their reversal on free trade? Orchard clearly thinks so, but getting Canadians to think historically-past the era of big hair, skinny ties, and thick skulls-is going to be a tall order. And that's assuming he wins the PC leadership, which is not as unlikely as it may sound. With his rising popular support, he scares the hell out of the Tory establishment. The Powers that Bore don't want him anywhere near their apple cart.


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