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Ottawa Citizen and Montreal Gazette, Thursday, August 17, 2006

Orchard backs Dion for Liberal leadership

by Juliet O'Neill, CanWest News Service

OTTAWA - Maverick political activist David Orchard has been encouraging former Progressive Conservatives to join the Liberal party and has now endorsed Quebec MP Stephane Dion as the best of 10 Liberal leadership candidates.

Orchard, a fervent Canadian nationalist who played kingmaker at the 2003 Progressive Conservative leadership convention, says he endorsed Dion Wednesday because he is likeliest to lead the Liberals to defeat Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority Conservative government.

"There's a whole progressive side of that party that doesn't have a home," Orchard said in an interview from Saskatoon. "The only home left for the progressive conservatives is in the Liberal party and helping to make that into a viable alternative to the administration of Mr. Harper."

Dion welcomed the addition of Orchard to his team, saying in a separate interview "we are a big tent."

He did not give Orchard any formal title or make any deals with him, he said. Orchard had spoken to all leadership candidates and chose Dion for his policy platform and his decade-long record in Liberal government.

Orchard praised Dion's achievements as an ardent environmentalist and champion of the Kyoto accord; a firm supporter of the Canadian Wheat Board and supply-management agricultural programs; a renowned advocate of Canadian unity; and for his call for an immediate ceasefire during the Israeli-Hezbollah war in Lebanon.

"When you add it all up I think that he is an effective leader who can stand against Stephen Harper," he said. He could not say how many delegates he might be able to deliver to Dion at the Dec. 2 leadership convention in Montreal.

Orchard, an organic farmer, is perhaps best known for his years of opposition to the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement and for being betrayed by PC leader Peter MacKay after ensuring his election at the 2003 convention. Orchard came third in the race after Jim Prentice, and channeled many of his delegates to MacKay in exchange for a deal to review the free-trade agreement and to stave off a merger with the then Canadian Alliance party.

"No deals, no commitments," Dion said. "I am not open to revisiting free trade at this time," Dion said. As for Orchard's support for the traditional definition of marriage, Dion said he supports court rulings, which extend rights and responsibilities to gay couples. "I don't think it will be revisited," he added.

Ontario MP Bryon Wilfert, one of Dion's Liberal caucus supporters said the message of the event was that Dion's campaign is growing and can attract supporters beyond a traditional Liberal base.

"The Progressive Conservative party does not exist anymore because Mr. MacKay betrayed Mr. Orchard and so it's the progressive people that are coming into our party and we welcome them," Dion said. " "We welcome everyone who is willing to work with me."

Orchard joined the Liberals during the last election campaign.

"And ever since I've been calling on people to help rebuild the party as a viable alternative to stop Mr. Harper and what he is doing to our country, taking us tighter and tighter into the U.S. embrace on a whole number of fronts, including falling lockstep in the foreign affairs direction of the U.S. administration," he said. "I want Canada to stand on its own two feet on the world stage."

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