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National Post, Friday, May 23, 2008

David Orchard sets out to save Canada. Again.

By Kelly McParland

If you're ever on one of those TV reality shows in which success depends on the determination to persevere in the face of betrayals, setbacks, failures, dirty tricks and the unreliability of others, the guy you want on your side is David Orchard.

The Saskatchewan farmer -- who can't possibly have much time for farming with all his other activities -- never gives up. Ever. He has been cheated by one party, ejected from a second and blindsided by a third, yet continues to beaver away on the various causes he holds dear, ignoring the overwhelming evidence that Canadian politics just isn't set up to accommodate somebody like him.

Mr. Orchard's latest venture is to seek the Liberal nomination in the riding of Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River. If you think you've heard this before, it's because you have. Mr. Orchard campaigned to run as the Liberal candidate in the March 17 byelection in the same riding, only to get the back of the hand from Liberal leader Stéphane Dion and Saskatchewan Liberal heavyweight Ralph Goodale. Mr. Dion thought Mr. Orchard was the greatest guy on earth when Mr. Orchard pledged his support during Mr. Dion's bid for the party leadership. There weren't a lot of people crowding onto the Dion bandwagon at the time, so Mr. Orchard's arrival was more than welcome. But when byelection time rolled around Mr. Dion decided he needed a female candidate for the riding and handpicked Joan Beatty, even though Mr. Orchard had already started campaigning. Liberal headquarters ignored his entreaties for a vote on the issue, or his claims he'd been promised a fair fight. So much for Mr. Dion's fealty.

Ms. Beatty promptly lost the riding to the Tories, opening the door for Mr. Orchard's second try at the nomination.

"Following an extensive period of consultation across the riding, I have decided to put my name forward as a candidate for the Liberal Party nomination in the northern Saskatchewan riding of Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River," he said in announcing his renewed candidacy on Wednesday. "As part of the Liberal team, I will offer my energy and experience to work for an alternative vision for the riding and the country to that put forward by Stephen Harper's government."

Liberal team? You have to wonder what happened to the Liberals' team spirit when half the party's front bench turned up in Saskatchewan to endorse Ms. Beatty, treating Mr. Orchard like two parts fertilizer and one part dog poop. Mr. Orchard doesn't let minor matters like that bother him, though. He has the successful politician's innate ability to ignore facts that might prove inconvenient to their ambitions. Has Hillary Clinton been beaten three ways from Sunday by Barack Obama? You bet. Outside farce or tragedy, has she got the remotest chance of overtaking him and seizing the Democratic nomination? Nope. Will she let that stop her from relentlessly pursuing her goal, even if it weakens the party and lessens its chances of eventual victory? Not a chance. Mr. Orchard knows how she feels.

Asked about his odds of success this time around, Mr. Orchard is sanguine. He isn't counting on the party marshalling its resources in a mass push to win him the nomination, but he does hope for "fair play from the party leadership." He doesn't think Mr. Dion is foolish, or devious, enough to pull the same stunt, parachuting in another candidate more pleasing to party HQ than to local voters.

"I think everybody involved believes that the riding is entitled to a democratic nomination process. Anything else at this point would, I expect, be highly counterproductive," he says.

He's not daunted by the make-up of the riding, which has one of the biggest aboriginal populations in the country. The three largest parties all ran native candidates in the by-election.

"The riding has had both aboriginal and non-aboriginal MPs over the years, representing both populations, which are roughly equal size in voting numbers," he notes. "I hope to bridge the gap between the various constituents."

The biggest question is why he would want to subject himself once again to federal politics. Mr. Orchard was lied to when he ran for the leadership of the Progressive-Conservative Party; fought in vain to stop it being absorbed by Stephen Harper's Conservatives; was heaved out of that party as a result and has hardly been treated kindly by his new pals in the Liberals. Why subject himself to more of the same?

His response is succinct: "For the people in the riding who have a mountain of issues to contend with; to help rid the country of Stephen Harper's government."

And because he never quits. Ever.

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