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Halifax Chronicle-Herald, November 27, 2005

PM cultivates the Orchard

By Silver Donald Cameron

There's a rumour out there that Paul Martin is courting David Orchard to join the Liberals. It’s a delicious thought.

Orchard, you will recall, is the former Progressive Conservative leadership candidate who opposed the Free Trade Agreement negotiated by the revered Brian Mulroney. Opponents of free trade believed – wrongly, as it turned out – that the agreement doomed such cherished social programs as medicare, and ensured that Canadian opinions and values would inexorably merge with American ones.

Didn’t happen. Polls show Canadian opinion differs more sharply from U.S. opinion than ever.

Supporters of free trade believed – wrongly, as it turned out – that free trade would give Canadian enterprises guaranteed access to U.S. markets, decisively ending the interminable cross-border bickering about softwood lumber, agricultural products and other trade issues.

Didn’t happen. If you still believe it will, go sing some Irish songs with Brian Mulroney and the ghost of Ronald Reagan.

Peter MacKay believed – wrongly, as it turned out – that if he promised David Orchard that he wouldn’t lead the Progressive Conservatives (remember that phrase?) into a merger, but then immediately did what he promised he wouldn’t do, nobody would really care or remember.

Stephen Harper believed – wrongly, as it turned out – that if he were the leader of something called The Conservative Party of Canada, the electorate would be snookered into seeing it as the respectable Progressive Conservative Party, not just a new disguise for the rabble of the righteous right previously known as the Canadian Alliance. (Remember that phrase?)

And I believed – wrongly, as it turned out – that Darrell Dexter would become Premier of Nova Scotia in 1999.

Ain’t life wonderful? Don’t you love the way the gods always put a wobble in the cue ball?

The Liberals, let us concede, are smug, arrogant, opportunistic and corrupt. Always were. But they have one golden virtue: they are not the Conservatives.

I’ve seen the cycle over and over again, sonny. In office, the Liberals gradually become insufferable. That gives rise to a Tory interlude. Mind you, the Liberals can ripen for as much as 22 years, which they did under King and St. Laurent. I was 20 years old before I heard the terms "federal government" and "Liberal" separated for the first time.

Then the Tories take office. Cold-eyed corporate types and messianic madmen crowd the bridge deck, ordering a cleanout of the grotty bilges. Within days, they start throwing out the babies with the bilge water. The country is appalled; the conservatives are decimated; the whole cycle begins again.

Paul Martin believed – wrongly – his coronation would not be fatally undermined by the antics of Jean Chretien’s associates. So now he faces an ethics crisis. Enter David Orchard.

"Mr. Speaker," says the new Liberal MP for Borden, Sask., "I have some questions for the honourable deputy leader of the Opposition. I hold before the House a handwritten agreement signed by myself. Would Mr. MacKay agree that this is also his signature on it? Yes? And would he further agree that the first item is, ‘No merger, joint candidates w(ith) Alliance?’ Yes? And was the party he represents not formed by just such a merger, enthusiastically negotiated by himself? Yes?

"Would he also admit that this signed agreement calls for a review of the free trade agreement and of NAFTA? Yes? And has his party undertaken any such review? No?

"Mr. Speaker, I further ask the honourable member to confirm that the vaporization of the Progressive Conservative party under his leadership has driven away former leaders and leadership candidates like Joe Clark, Scott Brison and Belinda Stronach, former federal ministers such as Flora MacDonald, Heward Grafftey and Sinclair Stevens, senators such as Lowell Murray, and former provincial premiers such as Brian Peckford?

"And is Mr. MacKay aware that the president of the PC party in 2003, who supported the merger, voted Liberal in 2004 and intends to run as a Liberal in the next election? Does he deny that, even as we speak, some of these distinguished Canadians are in court seeking to have the merger quashed as illegal?

"Mr. Speaker, my fundamental question to the honourable member is this: by what conceivable process of twisted logic does he presume to lecture anyone on ethics?"

Now, sonny, you may not agree with David Orchard. You may think Peter MacKay’s behaviour – and Stephen Harper’s – was correct and proper. Doesn’t matter. If they’re forced to defend their behaviour against Orchard as well as Stronach, Brison and the others, they’ll never get the word "Gomery" out of their mouths. The election will become a referendum on the legitimacy of the Opposition.

By the time you read this, David Orchard may be a Liberal. Or he may not. Who knows? But it’s a deliciously wicked prospect all the same.

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