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The Edmonton Journal , Sunday, June 20, 2004

Sidelined former Conservative campaigns against Harper's Tories

by Alan Kellog

GREAT BEND, SASK. - Say what you like about David Orchard, the self-described political orphan whose plans to save Canada are on hold for the moment. He knows how to live the rural farm life in style, surrounded by history.

The Orchard Homestead, an hour's drive north of Saskatoon, celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, a testament to hard work and strong bloodlines.

To commemorate the occasion, this summer David will rebuild the tiny log house his forebears lived in while they cleared the land, next to the huge stone cairn that marks his parents' graves.

He's already restored the 1918 farmhouse he grew up in, a handsome two-storey painted Canadian-flag red and white, with a gorgeous screened veranda where visitors sit in pristine white wicker chairs sipping tea and talking politics.

Deeds, family sepia prints, sundry historical memorabilia and good art line the walls. Persian-style carpets cover spotless wooden floors. Twin upright pianos share the living room with a fireplace and chessboards.

Upstairs sits the desk from the one-room schoolhouse down the road the Orchard boys attended. On its top are carved David's initials, along with those of an earlier occupant and abiding inspiration, John Diefenbaker.

At the moment, it remains to be seen if the off-farm life and works of David Orchard will be relegated to history or historical footnote.

It's not enough that his beloved Progressive Conservative Party has been "hijacked" out of existence, following the decision of former PC leader Peter MacKay to seek union with the Alliance in spite of a signed, very public leadership convention agreement with Orchard to the contrary.

But according to the polls, the reconstituted Conservative party seems to be on the verge of forming a government. It must be galling.

"I'm very worried," he says, pouring a cup of tea. "With no constitution, no convention, no policy input for members, they are setting out to devastate all the great national institutions. There will be no Canadian Wheat Board, no universal access to health care, environmental protection, the list goes on. And they'll likely be propped up by the Bloc, which doesn't even believe in a federal government. They've stolen our name, and with voters in a mood to throw the old rascals out, they seem to be turning to what they think are the PCs, a moderate party. They're not. It's a travesty. It's a very frustrating situation."

Then why not run as a PC-style independent? Several indies around the country, including Saskatchewan's Grant Devine and Surrey's Chuck Cadman, have a serious shot.

"We looked at it, but our polls showed that while I have very strong name recognition, things drop way off when you factor in running as an independent."

It's often said that Orchard's supporters in Saskatchewan -- nationalists who put the P in Progressive Conservative -- usually vote NDP provincially. What about standing with Jack Layton?

"All the parties contacted me, but I'm a man without a party right now, and we'll assess things after the election. There is a rigidity to the NDP on social issues that troubles me. I'm in favour of a big tent party. If you disagree with the party line, the big hammer comes down."

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