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,
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
"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.