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La presse, 23 January 2003

A Strange Creature

by Vincent Marissal

Forget for a moment all your political benchmarks and try to imagine a conservative who militates against the North-American Free Trade Agreement and for the Kyoto protocol; who wants a strong Canadian army, but who is opposed firmly to any intervention in Iraq; and who is ready to sacrifice the federal budget surpluses in order to invest massively in the public health network.

To divert you still a bit more, let's add that this strange political creature is bilingual and that he comes from deep within Saskatchewan, where he manages an organic farm. Lastly, this original character rejects any right-wing alliances and has dreams of revitalizing, alone, a party that many have already buried.

Here, ladies and gentlemen, is David Orchard, a candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party, who finished second behind Joe Clark in 1998. Of the four declared candidates (former minister Heward Grafftey, deputy Peter MacKay and Calgary lawyer, Jim Prentice), it is he who has the most powerful support base. Peter MacKay, presumed front-runner of the leadership race (race - a strong word!), should be wary: in a party with a depleted membership it is possible to seize power by recruiting thousands of members - something which Mr. Orchard can do very well.

In a tiny room, amidst pictures of former party leaders, Mr. Orchard on Tuesday gave an odd press conference which ended in an invitation addressed to about thirty demonstrators who surrounded the restaurant - sympathetic listeners, of one mind, in small groups. The demonstrators included a huge majority of anglophones and allophones devoted to the cause of their anti-Free Trade crusade. It's Montreal, you understand...

Mr. Orchard's visit to Montreal East unfortunately passed without notice. Unfortunately, I say, because this candidate for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party is well worth a few minutes of your time. Even if only for curiosity's sake. But also for the sake of interest in how things develop, for Mr. Orchard, allowing that he might be the chosen one, could very well find himself as the head of the party formerly led by Brian Mulroney, Mr. Free Trade in person.

Considering what remains of the Conservative Party, you will say it's not very important. However to the contrary, this reveals at just which point this party goes against the drift.


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