The StarPhoenix, Saturday, September 20, 2008
Orchard seeks elusive win in Sask.'s North
MONTREAL LAKE -- For a few hours, David Orchard's
four-pound northern pike was the biggest catch in the
Montreal Lake Cree Nation's fishing derby. By the time
the derby ended, one bigger fish had been reeled in and
Orchard was left out of the winner's circle.
The man Stephane Dion didn't want, Peter McKay
betrayed and Joe Clark called a "tourist" in the Tory
party has scratched out a surprisingly long career of
being blindsided and left for dead. Where does he keep
finding new political life?
"I'm not bitter," Orchard said, looking a bit like
Clint Eastwood squinting into the sun as he strolled the
shore of Montreal Lake, about 100 kilometres north of
Prince Albert. "I'm a farmer. You have good years, bad
years and you stick with it."
Eight months after Dion snubbed Orchard by appointing
Joan Beatty for an ill-fated run as the Liberal in the
March byelection in Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River,
Orchard's prospects are bright again.
The northern riding held for six months by
Conservative Rob Clarke is considered winnable by the
Liberals. And unlike the byelection campaign, when many
northern Liberals resented Beatty for her appointment,
there's party unity, at least publicly, behind Orchard.
The tortured political past of the crusader against
free trade, uranium and war has always seen the deepest
cuts inflicted from within.
Orchard, 58, says Dion and other senior Liberals had
assured him they wouldn't appoint a candidate in
Desnethe, although some Liberals later insisted he knew
Dion wanted to appoint an aboriginal woman.
Dion's rejection stung all the more because Orchard
had helped crown him Liberal leader in 2006 by
delivering his signed-up members to Dion.
There was also speculation that Saskatchewan's lone
Liberal MP, Ralph Goodale, actively worked against
Orchard from the inside, not wanting an unpredictable
politician like him within caucus.
Dion tried to patch it all up by hosting Orchard for
dinner in January at his Ottawa residence. Orchard said
he left "not too much the wiser for it.
"I'm still not exactly sure what took place there,"
Orchard said. "The leader asked me to run several times.
Then there was the appointment of Beatty."
The way Orchard sees it, it wasn't the party itself
that rejected him. He said he called John Turner, an
ally from the 1980s free-trade debate, and Jean Chretien
for advice after Dion appointed Beatty.
"They said, 'Stay with it.' 'Fight on' was Mr.
After Beatty's defeat, national campaign co-chair
Mark Marissen called him.
"He told me he was speaking for Mr. Dion and that,
'We'd be overjoyed if you'd run again.' "
The riding is roughly the size of Germany, spreading
40,000 electors across 347,000 square kilometres. It
wouldn't be unrealistic to cover the riding with an
airplane, but Orchard gets around in his 1981 Oldsmobile
Holiday 88. The paint is peeling. The odometer has
rolled seven times.
"It's a joke across the North," Orchard laughs. "They
call it a res car."
It's also at times a moving Motel 6.
On a recent visit to a reserve near Loon Lake, a
councillor asked him if he sleeps in the car.
"I said, 'As a matter of fact I do sometimes, ' "
"He said, 'You're a real Indian' and he took a
Orchard said his roots run deeper than the aborted
byelection campaign. In 1992, he was among 32 people
arrested for a blockade at Canoe Lake Cree Nation to
protest clearcutting. The charges were later dropped.
Irene Durocher, a pregnant woman among those arrested
by RCMP, later named her son Tyrone David -- the second
name after Orchard -- and made him his godfather.
Campaigning in this riding is more personal than
door-knocking in southern urban ridings. In Montreal
Lake, he is toured by a few supporters who fill him in
on family connections as much as local issues. Orchard
approached a row of women in lawn chairs at the fishing
derby, correctly guessing the family ties of some and
consoling others. To a woman whose husband recently
died, he shares his own grief at losing his parents.
Getting elected here requires acute political balance
to walk a tightrope between the riding's main groups --
relatively affluent non-aboriginal farmers and cottagers
in the south and Cree, Dene and Metis communities --
some of them appallingly poor -- farther north.
"This is one of the richest parts of the world and
we've got people living in Third World conditions,"
Orchard said. "I want to be a strong voice for them."
Some of Orchard's other positions are more
politically problematic. He's critical of the war in
Afghanistan, despite the fact that a Liberal government
was in power when Canada joined the fight.
For all of Orchard's headlines and national profile,
he has never been elected to public office. Along with
losing PC leadership contests in 1998 and 2003, he lost
a PC nomination race in Prince Albert in 2000.
This time his supporters think the conditions are
right for Orchard to reel in the big prize.
"Last time because of Dion and the arrogance he
showed, a lot of people were ticked off (and voted
Conservative)," said Leonard Hardlotte of Stanley
Mission. "Now that they're doing it in a democratic way,
he's going to have lots of people voting for him."