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The Halifax Herald, Thursday, March 17, 2005

Conservatives snub Orchard

Party tells former leadership candidate he's not welcome at convention

By Amy Smith and Stephen Maher / Staff Reporters

Mr. Orchard said he got word this week he was not welcome as a member-observer at the Conservative party's meeting in Montreal, which starts this evening. He said he was told the party's joint interim council rejected his membership, which he said he attempted to renew online last month.

"This is a party that is asking all Canadians to support them as an alternative to the Liberals," Mr. Orchard said in an interview Wednesday. "If they are slamming the door on the progressive side of the party, I don't know how that can translate into an election victory - ever."

Mr. Orchard, who was in Quebec City Wednesday on his way to Montreal, said he made all of his travel and hotel arrangements and paid his $500 convention registration fee, which has since been refunded.

Mr. Orchard, an anti-free trade activist from Saskatchewan, ran for the leadership of the former Progressive Conservative party twice. He played kingmaker at the 2003 convention, delivering his supporters to Peter MacKay after Mr. MacKay signed an agreement promising to keep the party from merging with the Canadian Alliance. Even with the deal, which was written on a paper napkin, the merger went ahead.

Mr. Orchard later described the new party as "conceived in deception and born in betrayal."

"I signed an agreement with Mr. MacKay about the future of the party and I haven't spoken to him since," Mr. Orchard said.

Mr. MacKay could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Geoff Norquay, spokesman for the Conservative party, said Mr. Orchard has made it very clear he does not believe in the party or its goals.

"Who cares what David Orchard thinks or says?" Mr. Norquay said Wednesday. "His 15 minutes are up."

But Nova Scotia's two other Conservative MPs said they think Mr. Orchard should be allowed in the hall.

"I never agreed with David Orchard on hardly anything but I always admired his ability to present his point and I always had time to listen to him," said Bill Casey, MP for Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley. "I think everybody should be allowed to attend conventions. There are so many divergent opinions in the party."

Mr. Casey said he's seen evidence of a recent organized effort to sign up party members to promote a single issue, such as same-sex marriage or abortion.

"They've shown up at riding association meetings that have certain agendas," he said Wednesday. "They're hoping to have an influence. It will be interesting to see how that works out. But there's a lot. And it's not unorganized."

It seems silly that those people will be welcomed inside while Mr. Orchard is kept out, said Gerald Keddy, MP for South Shore-St. Margarets.

"I don't see the point in it if all of a sudden we've got instant memberships signed up all over. I may not agree with David Orchard's message, but I certainly respect his right to deliver it."

Mr. Keddy said the decision is especially silly, given that Mr. Orchard was registered as an observer.

"If that's the case, that's just stupid," he said. "If someone registers as an observer, then they have the right to observe. Good God Almighty, the Liberals will register as observers. So, that's pretty petty politics. I'm not in any way, shape or form in agreement with Orchard's message, but I think there's going to be a pretty wide range of views on varying issues. He would quite simply be just one more."

The new socially conservative members will no doubt get lots of ink, said Mr. Casey.

"I think they'll hijack the media but I don't think they'll hijack the meeting," he said. "I think the majority of Conservatives share a lot of common ideas and I think that's the way it will come out."

If the party allows itself to be dominated by single-issue activists, it will never form a government, said Mr. Keddy, who has come under fire in his riding for supporting same-sex marriage legislation.

Premier John Hamm and his chief of staff Jane Purves fly to Montreal Friday for the convention.

Mr. Hamm said Wednesday he hadn't heard about Mr. Orchard's exclusion, but said he can't imagine any party wanting someone whose purpose is to cause trouble.

"What the party is looking for is the collective activities of like-minded people," the premier said.

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