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The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon), Friday, April 2, 2004

Orchard plans comeback for PC party

by Darren Bernhardt

David Orchard, the Saskatchewan farmer and former Progressive Conservative leadership hopeful, has vowed to provide a new federal party to people forsaken by the recent PC and Canadian Alliance merger. When that happens and whether it means a new party on the federal political landscape or resuscitation under the PC banner remains to be seen.

"I'm considering everything now. The exact path that I take is a decision that will be made after we've gone through this process with the court at the end of the month," he said. Orchard and 22 other disgruntled PC party loyalists are seeking to restore the PC name. Their first attempt failed, but a hearing at Ontario's Court of Appeal is set for April 27.

"My battle would be to build back up a moderate mainstream alternative to the Liberal Party that's not ideologically rigid but, in general, seeks to protect our sovereignty, our environment, our agriculture and all of the other things I've spoken for over the years," Orchard said.

In November 2003, he launched a court action to halt the merger of his former party and the Alliance on the basis it could only happen with unanimous consent of party members. An Ontario Superior Court judge dismissed the claim on Dec. 5, the day Alliance members voted overwhelmingly to merge.

The following day, PC members gave their approval. That same day, a Saturday, the chief electoral officer of Canada met with each party's leader -- Peter MacKay (PC) and Stephen Harper (Alliance) - and dissolved their former parties.

"That was highly unusual, to say the least, that an office like that would open (on the weekend and do that)," Orchard said. "So I'm very much battling to hang on to that name and the rights of members of the party who want to remain Progressive Conservatives."

MacKay secured the PC leadership at a convention in May 2003 after promising Orchard, a rival candidate, he would steer clear of merger talks with the Alliance. In return, Orchard lent his support to MacKay, who won on a fourth ballot. MacKay later reneged on the promise, saying he realized the parties had no choice but to unite if they hope to put an end to conservative vote-splitting.

"It was clearly a betrayal of the agreement Peter put his name to and I've told him that," said Orchard. "But it is also a betrayal of all those people who were Progressive Conservatives that voted for him, based on his promise to rebuild our party."

If he can't secure the party name, Orchard plans to look at his options in regard to establishing another federal party. He believes the desire is out there for that.

He just completed a speaking tour and fundraiser in Alberta and southern British Columbia, during which time he received more than $20,000 in donations, even though he has no party and cannot provide tax receipts. He said he's also been contacted by most "if not all" of Canada's other political parties to join them.

"But I'm focused on rebuilding this party. Just how, though, has still to be worked out," he said.

One thing Orchard does know, is where he stands on certain issues and he doesn't hesitate to discuss his platform for "putting Canada back on its feet." He is vehemently opposed to U.S. defence missiles being located on Canadian soil, is incensed the current government is selling off Petro-Canada, and wants farmers in this country move more towards "sustainable organic agriculture," which he says is giving a better return.

He has been practicing organic agriculture for 27 years on the 100-year-old Orchard farm at Borden, 80 kilometres west of Saskatoon and just five kilometres from the homestead of Saskatchewan's most famous conservative, John Diefenbaker.

Orchard also wants steps taken to "stop the destruction of the environment" and see the country's railway system strengthened. And of course, he is still an outspoken free-trade critic.

"I'm going to be fighting for all of these issues as effectively and as hard as I can," he said. "And I don't think most Canadians want to move to two-tier medicine or have our people fighting in Iraq or do many of the things that dismantle our institutions that the Alliance has wanted us to do."

Orchard's speaking tour hits Regina on April 8 before moving on to Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

"Then we'll have to see what comes out of the (Appeal) Court by that time," he said.

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