David Orchard
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Winnipeg Free Press, February 21, 2003

Orchard has PC star appeal

by Frances Russell

His opponents in the race to replace Joe Clark as the leader of the federal Tories vacillate between pooh-poohing David Orchard as a crank and panicking at his possible popular appeal.

But he has an illustrious political connection, star supporters his foes can only dream about and policies on Canada's future that polls indicate are more popular with Canadians than the positions of any of his adversaries.

The organic wheat farmer from Borden, Saskatchewan and the man who finished a distant second in the 1998 Tory leadership contest brings his cross-country drive to take the party's top job to a rally at the University of Winnipeg tonight.

The fluently bilingual, fierce Canadian nationalist may be odd man out among what one commentator describes as "a clutch of blue suits" vying to replace Mr. Clark, but he counts in his corner such luminaries as novelist Margaret Atwood, artist Robert Bateman, Stompin' Tom Connors, classical pianist Anton Kuerti, former Noranda CEO Adam Zimmerman and the founder of Alberta's Nova Corporation, Bob Blair.

In addition, Mr. Orchard's candidacy won the blessing of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau. Mr. Orchard recalled in an interview this week that Mr. Trudeau "very much encouraged me" to run for the Conservative Party leadership in May, 1998. "He called it 'an ingenious use of political reality and it's historically correct. Don't be ashamed of it.' " In their final meeting in June, 2000, Mr. Trudeau again endorsed the Saskatchewan farmer's leadership quest, telling him he was "not the usual politician. You do not want to hand the country over to the great enterprises."

Mr. Orchard was wooed by the Liberals several times but it was former prime minister John Turner who advised him in 1997 to consider the Conservatives. He already knew most of his heroes were Conservatives -- Sir John A. Macdonald, Robert Borden, R.B. Bennett and John Diefenbaker. They were the prime ministers who built the railroad, defeated reciprocity in 1911, created the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, established the Canadian Wheat Board and set up the Bank of Canada.

They were "red" Tories, nationalists who fought to keep the country out of the American eagle's nest. They were also socially conscious. They drew on a long British "Red" Tory tradition expressed in Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli's dictum that "the rights of labour are as sacred as the rights of property".

Mr. Orchard knows there is a "blue" Tory tradition, too, exhibited in the personages of John Bracken, George Drew and Brian Mulroney. Originally the Tories of Bay Street, under the Mulroney government, they became - and still are - the Tories of Wall Street.

It's the Bay Street-Wall Street party Mr. Orchard is now trying to pull back to its electorally successful Red Tory roots and prevent the certain electoral death of an alliance with the Canadian Alliance. "In the last election, far more eligible Canadians didn't vote at all than voted for the Canadian Alliance," he says. "Does anyone believe merging with the Alliance will attract disillusioned youth? Aboriginals? New Canadians? Francophones?"

Mr. Orchard believes the Conservatives once again must become a "big tent" party. "When the Conservative Party adheres to its people-come-first roots, its following is strong. Each time it loses its sense of nationhood, moves too far to the right and adopts a narrow business agenda, the party loses itself too.

"The choice before us is either permanent Liberal rule or a rejuvenated mainstream Progressive Conservative party which steers well clear of the Canadian Alliance."

He wants the party to create a blue ribbon panel to review the benefits to Canada of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Secure access to American markets was not only not achieved, but Canada now suffers greater trade harassment than ever before, in steel, in softwood lumber, with the wheat board. Worse, because of the Byrd amendment, U.S. punitive duties go straight into the coffers of U.S. business, inviting even more harrassment.

"Alberta gets zero per cent royalty for tar sands oil going to the U.S. Our east coast gas is committed to the American market. Maritimers can't get it. The net realized income of Saskatchewan farmers today is 10 per cent of what it was a decade ago, yet we've almost tripled our agricultural exports," Mr. Orchard says. "I'm saying there's something wrong with that model."

Meanwhile, the latest Maclean's Magazine year-end poll found that 57 per cent of Canadians now want their country to become more independent of the U.S.

He is realistic about his chances. "My opponents each have more than a million dollars to spend." But he says the Tory Draft.com Website that is tracking memberships has him selling 250 a day compared to 50 each for other contenders.


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