Edmonton Journal, 26 October, 2003
Orchard won't roll over on merger
After years in the political wilderness, David Orchard is a hot commodity on the media circuit as he fights the PC and Alliance merger, writes Alan Kellogg
by Alan Kellogg
SASKATOON - David Orchard world headquarters occupies a modest storefront next door to China Clipper Fish & Chips on a busy street just north of Saskatoon's attractive city centre.
Just across 2nd Avenue sits the gleaming bone-white Modern Press building, a restored art deco gem that was once home to The Western Producer, the weekly bible of agriculture and farm life that still remains the largest-selling periodical of its stripe in Canada.
Later on, the handsome edifice housed the North American operations of a French uranium corporation.
In his own dogged way, Orchard, a fourth-generation farmer from nearby Borden. has proudly maintained the explosive heritage of the block.
Busy, busy, busy
Dismissed by the conventional chattering class for years as a loopy nationalist who would quickly fade into the fetid grain bin of historical footnotes, Orchard lately finds himself at the very height of his powers, a sought-after interview by the nation's most august media outlets, the kingmaker turned deal-breaker.
In fact, he's so busy in his campaign to overturn the merger of his Progressive Conservative Party with the Canadian Alliance that he's not even home, where he was scheduled to return last week.
Instead, he's keeping close to the action in Ontario, where the federal PC's 40-member management committee is meeting in Ottawa this weekend to pass judgment on the organizational nuptials proposed by Peter Mac-Kay and Stephen Harper.
Friday, PC opponents of the deal announced that they have a legal opinion that would allow them to personally sue party supporters who approve the implementation program.
As well, it also suggests that opponents of the deal could retain rights to the Progressive Conservative imprimatur. MacKay supporters indicated they hold different legal opinions that would allow the merger.
Notwithstanding the highly arguable merits of his program to "save Canada," Orchard doesn't sound the slightest bit crazed over the line from Toronto between phone-in shows.
He sounds like a wronged man who has a pretty terrific issue or two with which he can torment his adversaries, led by MacKay, the leader Orchard and two-thirds of his delegate-supporters put over the top at last May's PC convention in Toronto.
In his opposition to the deal, Orchard, long dubbed a meddling maverick, finds himself in the pedigreed company of Joe Clark and Sen. Lowell Murray.
"Peter MacKay ran as a no-merger candidate and signed an agreement to that effect. It was the most open back room deal in Canadian history and Peter MacKay looked me straight in the eye. The one leadership candidate that supported merger drew less than one per cent of the vote. Within days, MacKay was negotiating the very instrument that would dissolve the party, the very thing he pledged to resist. I think anyone would call that a betrayal."
Perhaps, say merger boosters, but polls are clearly pointing to a Paul Martin landslide that would likely decimate right-of-centre ranks in Parliament.
An Environics survey released Friday showed both the PCs and Alliance behind the NDP in popular support.
Politics at its most visceral is also an exercise in survival. Isn't MacKay staring at a pointed gun, doing his best to avoid disaster?
Alliance tidal wave
"When someone is pointing a gun at you, why pull the trigger yourself? This agreement in principle would dissolve both parties by Dec 12. Even the name of the new party was chosen from on high. The timelines are such that there will no debate, no policy convention. The Alliance isn't taking any chances. They are planning to cut off new memberships Oct. 27, while we are keeping ours open to allow us to be swamped. Already Brian Palliser, who holds memberships in both parties, says he will vote for the merger -- twice. Whose policies will prevail? There are good, hard-working people in both parties. But this new creature the Conservative Party is being imposed by Bay Street. The process is fundamentally anti-democratic."
Never mind the differences in MPs and party members, he says. It's the Alliance that is particularly desperate.
"The message is unmistakable. Look at the last federal election, which was supposed to be the breakthrough for the Alliance. Well, no. Now there's a new telegenic leader and look where they are in the polls. It didn't happen, and it's because of their policies. They can't sell them. Only the moderate mainstream can win federal elections. Only the Liberal and Conservative parties have ever formed a government."
Whether Orchard, who says the federal PC party, the only one he's ever supported, qualifies as "mainstream moderate" is up for grabs. Ditto for his supporters. But he maintains the media have been unfair in their dismissive characterizations.
"When many of Scott Brison's delegates followed him at the leadership convention, they were called loyal. When two-thirds of pledged delegates to the Orchard campaign joined me in supporting MacKay, they were referred to as a cult group. What's the difference? In fact, we had a vigorous debate, tears were shed. One-third of the delegates didn't agree. Would anyone call (former Nova head) Bob Blair a mindless clone? Or Stompin' Tom Connors?"
I had been talking to local political thinkers about rural voting patterns, and wondered how Orchard's farm background has informed his views. He stays on message.
"I'm not sure. I went to a one-room schoolhouse and rode in a horse and sleigh. Learning French and trying to understand central Canada was a struggle. But one thing every farmer knows is that there are no shortcuts."
He says he's not entertaining any thoughts of forming a new party.
"I'm a Progressive Conservative, the party of Macdonald and Cartier, the party that saw the creation of the transcontinental railway, the Bank of Canada, the CBC, the Canadian Wheat Board. I don't want it to be swallowed up."
His strategy? "To quote another Conservative, we'll fight them on the land, the air and the sea."
And, of course, on talk radio.