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Globe and Mail, Thursday, February 25, 2004

Orchard takes Conservatives to court again

by Luma Muhtadie

Former Tory leadership candidate David Orchard has filed another lawsuit against the new Conservative Party for violating its own rules by holding on to more than $70,000 of his money from the leadership campaign.

According to Mr. Orchard, the Conservatives owe him $15,000 of the $45,000 deposit he paid during the Tory leadership contest, and which should be refunded to candidates who abided by the rules of the race.

He is also owed more than $55,000 in campaign donations that he submitted to the party's head office for processing to ensure that donors received tax credits. Party rules require the money to be returned to the candidate within 48 hours, he said.

"So it's $70,000 of my money that they're holding," Mr. Orchard said during an interview on CBC Newsworld on Wednesday.

"At the same time that they're talking about a new ethics and accountability and accusing the Liberals of the lack of both of those, this new party is using money that doesn't belong to it. It belongs to me," he said.

The lawsuit announced Wednesday is the latest in a series of bitter disputes between Mr. Orchard and his former party.

During last spring's race for the Tory leadership, Mr. Orchard signed an agreement with eventual winner Peter Mackay promising to withdraw from the contest and throw his support behind Mr. Mackay on condition that the party not merge with the Alliance.

Merger discussion with the Alliance were initiated shortly after Mr. Mackay won the leadership.

Last December, Mr. Orchard and 22 other Tories tried to prevent their party from merging with the Alliance, arguing that the union could not be effected without unanimous support of all party members. The lawsuit was thrown out in its entirety by the judge, who said the chief electoral officer of Canada, not the court, must decide on the merger's legitimacy.

Mr. Orchard said the campaign donations he is owed were those submitted in December, when hostilities and legal wrangling were peaking.

He complained that he has received a series of excuses about why the money that he was owed 10 weeks ago remains outstanding.

"Is there a vendetta going on against David Orchard, or is the party broke, or is it going to be broke. Why is it using my money?" Mr. Orchard said.

He said he believes the other candidates in the spring leadership contest - Jim Prentice, Scott Brison and Mr. Mackay - have already received their money, but his legal team has yet to confirm this.

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