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Toronto Star, 8 June, 2003

Orchard looks like real Tory winner

by Graham Fraser

OTTAWA-When David Orchard was a teenager, he had an experience that marked him for life.

"U.S. Air Force jets came suddenly screaming out of the Saskatchewan sky, right over our barn," he writes in his book The Fight for Canada: Four Centuries of Resistance to American Expansionism.

"At barely treetop level they came so fast and so loud as to be from another planet, scattering the livestock in panic. For months they came without warning. Later I learned they were conducting exercises and were on their way to bomb farmers in Vietnam - farmers struggling to raise their crops and livestock just as we were."

That seed flowered into a persistent campaign that reached a peak last weekend, when Orchard used his power to anoint Peter MacKay as Tory leader.

A turning point in Orchard's evolution occurred when he met Marjaleena Repo.

Originally from Finland, Repo came to Canada in 1960 at the age of 22, and studied sociology at the University of Toronto. After she graduated in 1964, she worked as a social worker and freelance broadcaster before being hired by the City of Toronto in 1966 as a relocation officer in Trefann Court, the neighbourhood south of Regent Park threatened with demolition and redevelopment.

Convinced that the city was going to hurt the neighbourhood rather than help it, she quit - and worked as a community organizer.

She was drawn to the working class homeowners, and saw them as the basis for organizing the community - and had little sympathy with what she described as "the defeated people on welfare." Her tough-minded approach resulted in conflict with the other community organizers in the neighbourhood, in particular John Sewell, who argued that all the elements of the community should be brought together.

Her class analysis of the neighbourhood led to her being attacked as a Marxist, a label she rejected.

In 1973, she met Orchard and convinced him to study Canadian history, fight Canada's colonial mentality and organize to free the country of foreign domination. In 1985, she helped him transform his criticisms of free trade into a protest movement: Citizens Concerned About Free Trade.

Together, Orchard and Repo have organized a movement that is now a significant force in the Progressive Conservative Party. In some 80 constituencies, the Orchard and MacKay forces were the only ones competing for delegates, and Orchard and Repo arrived in Toronto for the convention with more than 600 delegates, representing about one-quarter of the party.

When former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed said in his tribute to Joe Clark that he and Clark had been "so pleased ... that they were in a Progressive Conservative Party," he was hinting that the Canadian Alliance had more in common with the right-wing populism of Social Credit than with mainstream conservatism.

By "progressive," he meant people like former federal leader Robert Stanfield, former Ontario premier William Davis and former Toronto mayor David Crombie who believe in an activist compassionate state and the preservation of traditions.

But he was just as clearly not referring to Orchard and Repo.

MacKay's victory was unseemly and inept. His organizers had tried and failed to bully fellow Nova Scotian Scott Brison with reprisals if he didn't support MacKay.

They tried dirty tricks - sending delegates disguised in Brison shirts to cross the floor. Then, the famous deal. The MacKay-Orchard bargain was no "gentleman's agreement"; when finally made public, it was clear it went beyond policy issues like reviewing free trade to personnel questions.

Orchard now has a written guarantee that some of his people will have jobs at party headquarters.

Reaching out to political opponents is nothing new. Tuesday marks the 20th anniversary of Brian Mulroney's victory over Clark, which he achieved by forging an alliance of the discontented.

But Orchard, not MacKay, has emerged looking like a winner. He out-organized his opponents, kept his delegates through three ballots, drove a hard bargain, and played his cards well. Now, he has a foothold in Tory headquarters. The Tories have a tiger in the tent, and the tent may not survive.


Graham Fraser is a national affairs writer. He can be reached at graham.fraser@sympatico.ca

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