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Winnipeg Free Press, Friday, April 8th, 2005

Orchard wants his money back

by Frances Russell

David Orchard, the bilingual fourth-generation Saskatchewan farmer who brought the second largest number of delegates to the Progressive Conservative Party's 2003 leadership convention, says the Conservative party is blackmailing him with $77,000 of his own money.

"This is under the Canada Elections Act," Mr. Orchard said in an interview. "(Conservative Leader Stephen Harper), whose policies I have opposed, used my money to run an election campaign last June. How is the party able to get away with this? There's all kinds of ramifications under the Canada Elections Act for a candidate who overspends, what, $5,000. But here you've got a political party just brazenly... they've grabbed my money."

Before it will turn over the $77,000 in campaign contributions and costs it owes him, the Conservative party is demanding Mr. Orchard waive all his rights to sue Deputy Conservative leader Peter MacKay, "his heirs, executors, successors, administrators, executors" or his agents; or the party or its agents, for "all manner of actions, causes of actions, suits, debts, dues, accounts, bonds, covenants, contracts, claims and demands whatsoever."

Mr. Orchard placed second to former Tory leader Joe Clark in the 1998 PC leadership race. At the 2003 convention, he was the kingmaker, delivering his supporters to Peter MacKay in a dramatic, between-ballot pact in which Mr. MacKay pledged not to merge the PCs with the Canadian Alliance and to reassess the impact of continental free trade on the Canadian economy.

Within weeks, Mr. MacKay began secret talks with the Alliance that concluded with the creation of the new Conservative party amid allegations of Alliance "swamping" of PC constituency associations. The promised free trade review fizzled.

Mr. Orchard was one of several former PCs who went to court in an unsuccessful attempt to block the PC-Alliance merger. He admits he could still sue Mr. MacKay for fraud and breach of trust but insists he has "no intention of suing anybody. I am not going to be blackmailed with my money into giving up rights that are mine under the constitution. What are they afraid of? This has nothing to do with my money."

Under the PC party constitution, leadership candidates were guaranteed their donations and registration fees back within 48 hours of the party receiving them and mailing out tax credit receipts to contributors. All other candidates obtained their refunds except Mr. Orchard, including Scott Brison, who defected to the Liberals and is federal public works minister.

At first, Mr. Orchard blamed the delay on his court battle against the merger. "But forty-eight hours has now turned into a year and a half."

He sued the party in early 2004. At the compulsory mediation stage, "Peter MacKay's lawyer... started off saying we don't owe you anything because the party doesn't exist any more," Mr. Orchard says. "So we pointed out to them that the new party assumed all the debts, the assets and liabilities, of the two previous parties... So they tried to be smart about that. Then a week or two later they offered $19,000, then $34,000 and then $44,000 and I kept saying no, you owe me $70,000. Then just before Christmas they said all right, we'll give you $70,000 plus $7,000 of legal costs and will you take that and I said yes."

Still no money came. In February, the party's lawyers presented him with the no-sue demand. "This has been a systematic attempt to bully and to shut me up and to intimidate me and to try and break me financially," Mr. Orchard concludes. He's going back to court, this time asking for $200,000 in punitive damages, too.

The party banned Mr. Orchard from its first policy convention last month, first accepting his $500 registration fee as an observer and then refunding it and rejecting his membership and giving no reasons.

The Canadian nationalist and environmentalist believes the party's animus goes well beyond his anti-merger activities and possible lawsuits and is really about his political beliefs.

Senior Conservative strategist Geoff Norquay lent credence to that, telling the Halifax Chronicle-Herald: "Who cares what David Orchard thinks or says? His 15 minutes are up."

Mr. Orchard is reviewing his political options. He says "things are exceptionally dangerous for Canada right now." He doesn't believe most Canadians want the right-wing, decentralist and continentalist policies offered by the Conservatives. But given the scandal engulfing the Liberals, an election could bring a Conservative-Bloc Quebecois alliance "that could have serious consequences for Canada on a number of fronts. The Conservatives' words about being open and inclusive and a Big Tent are nullified by their actions, cutting out not just David Orchard but the whole progressive side of the Progressive Conservative party, the only side, I might add, that caused that party to be elected."

Frances.Russell@MTS.NET


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