Toronto Star, December 1, 2006
David Orchard is in the house -- once again
By Thomas Walkom
MONTREAL -- Could David Orchard end up deciding who
gets to be the next Liberal leader? At first glance, the
idea seems bizarre. But the Saskatchewan organic farmer
and anti-free trade agitator -- who twice came close to
capturing the Progressive Conservative crown -- has
surfaced at the nail-biting Liberal leadership
convention at the head of a band of 175 fiercely loyal
delegates, most of whom are determined to support
whatever candidate he chooses.
Right now, says Orchard, that is Quebec MP Stéphane
"He has more cabinet experience than all of the rest
put together," Orchard says over tea, at the cavernous
convention centre where this leadership extravaganza is
"If Stephen Harper is going to be stopped, he has to
be stopped in Quebec. And Dion can do that. Besides, I
like his environmental agenda."
Canada's political elites don't have much time for
Orchard. He's a zealot, in an age when zealotry is
viewed with suspicion. He's a perennial outsider in a
game dominated by those desperate to be inside players.
Journalists, while they may find him intriguing at
first, soon weary of his single-mindedness. He has no
talent for small talk. He doesn't schmooze.
Worst of all, he keeps going on about the issues that
consume him -- such as the problems caused by the North
American free trade agreement or the need to protect
Canadian sovereignty -- even after the media begin to
find these topics boring.
But to his followers, he is an almost Messianic
Joan Tomblin-Morris, a B.C. physician waiting to be
bumped up from alternate to delegate status, says she
first encountered Orchard in 1987 when, out of
curiosity, she attended one of his meetings on free
His ability to master the complicated details of the
Canada U.S. Free Trade Agreement amazed her, she says.
He could not only reveal their internal contradictions
but explain them in clear language.
So, like most Orchardites, she's been with him since.
In 1998, she followed him into the Tories when he took
on Joe Clark for the leadership -- and came close to
winning. "I didn't really want to be a Conservative,"
she admits. But she soldiered on, becoming president of
her riding association. When Orchard made his second
leadership bid in 2003, she followed.
That was the contest in which Orchard threw his
support to Peter MacKay, thereby allowing the Nova
Scotia MP to win. In return, MacKay promised never to
merge with Harper's hard-right Alliance party.
When MacKay reneged, Orchard fought the merger --
unsuccessfully -- in the courts. Eventually, he and his
supporters abandoned the Conservatives. Last January, he
quietly joined the Liberals. His followers, as always,
And so the fabled Orchard organization went to work.
In mid-August, he announced his support for Dion. By the
end of September, Orchardites had captured a solid bloc
of Liberal riding associations -- mainly in
Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. -- for the Quebec
Their speciality was to focus on ridings with no
sitting Liberal MP, where the party organization was
thin. So now Team Orchard is in Montreal. They are
bunked in at an apartment hotel in a seedier part of
town. Each evening, they hold a pep rally.
Orchard is coy about who he would support if Dion is
eliminated during the voting tomorrow. "I'll cross that
bridge when I come to it," he said, smiling.
But in an election that promises to be perilously
close, his 175 or so delegates could play a significant
Technically, about 5,500 Liberals are entitled to
vote for their leader. But the convention costs are so
steep (a delegate has to pay $995 just to register) that
not all are expected to show up.
Orchard already has more committed delegates than
last-place contender Martha Hall Findlay. By the time
registration closes today, Orchardites here could easily
outnumber those committed to other faint-hope candidates
such as MPs Scott Brison and Joe Volpe.
As Orchard sips his tea, a Saskatoon delegate wearing
a Michael Ignatieff scarf stops to talk. He is committed
to the Toronto MP on the first ballot. But he does not
plan to stay there. Ralph Goodale, the Liberal godfather
in his province, has been urging him to switch to Bob
Rae. But the delegate ("Please don't use my name")
thinks he'll probably go to Dion.
That's what he wanted to tell David Orchard.