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Ottawa Citizen, May 18, 2003

Wooing the new Tory kingmaker

by Norma Greenaway

David Orchard probably won’t step into Joe Clark’s shoes, but he will have a say who does

Once dismissed as a tourist in the federal Progressive Conservative party, David Orchard has graduated to potential kingmaker as he heads into the leadership convention in Toronto May 31.

Mr. Orchard’s strong second-place showing in first-round delegate selection means he is best positioned to prevent frontrunner Nova Scotia MP Peter MacKay from succeeding Joe Clark as Tory leader.

“David Orchard has the capacity to be the kingmaker,” says political analyst David Taras. “If he moves (to support another candidate), he would have enough votes to give someone else the win, because his people will follow him.”

A big question heading into the convention is whether the organic farmer from Saskatchewan and ardent opponent of the Tory-negotiated free trade agreements with the U.S. and Mexico will accept the role.

Mr. Orchard is ruling nothing out. He says Mr. MacKay hasn’t won yet and that he expects drama on the convention floor.

Mr. MacKay, a two-term MP and former Crown prosecutor, arrives in Toronto in the strongest position on the first ballot, having won 1,166 delegates, or 42 per cent of the potential pool from ridings across the country.

Mr. Orchard finished second with 709 delegates, or 25 per cent, followed by Calgary lawyer Jim Prentice with 411, or 15 per cent. Nova Scotia MP Scott Brison got 279 delegates, or 10 per cent of the vote.

The real show begins on the second ballot. Mr. Orchard, considered a misfit by many Tories, is given low to no growth potential after the first ballot. The hope in the Prentice camp is that their candidate will attract enough anti-MacKay and soft MacKay votes to jump ahead of Mr. Orchard on the second ballot. The Brison camp shares the same hope, although it is a longer shot.

The bottom line, however, is that, barring a dramatic collapse of Mr. MacKay’s vote, neither Mr. Prentice nor Mr. Brison can win without significant backing from delegates from all camps, including Mr. Orchard’s.

Mr. Prentice and Mr. Brison have been at obvious pains to reach out to Mr. Orchard during the run-up to the convention, treating the upstart candidate with respect and praising, in particular, his commitments to environmental protection.

They also rushed last week to support the Orchard campaign’s complaint about the party’s decision not to hold a delegate-selection meeting in the Vancouver Island North riding.

After an aggressive campaign to sign up new members there, the Orchard forces expected to win seven or eight of the 10 delegates. But the riding executive refused repeated requests from the Orchard supporters to organize a meeting.

Officials from the Brison and Prentice camps asked the party to call a meeting, and said that failure to do so would damage the integrity of the leadership selection process. The two camps complain privately that party headquarters is biased towards Mr. MacKay, considered the establishment candidate.

Mr. Prentice makes no secret of his desire to attract Orchard delegates. “David Orchard is going to have 500 votes, and when he comes off, say, the third ballot, those people are going to vote for somebody,” he said.

Mr. Prentice’s spokesman, Jason Hatcher, took exception to the view that Mr. Prentice was “too right wing” for Mr. Orchard. He insists the two men have much in common on social, aboriginal and environmental policies, despite differences on free-trade, the U.S.-led war on Iraq and whether Canada should join Washington’s missile defence system.

Still, the betting is strong Mr. Orchard will stay on the ballot as long as he can. After all, he refused to quit the ballot in 1998 contest after finishing a distant third to Joe Clark, thereby forcing a second ballot.

“His people are not going to go elsewhere,” said Heather MacIvor, a political analyst at the University of Windsor. “They are there to put their guy over the top. If he doesn’t go over the top, they are going to start wandering out.”

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