Vancouver Sun, Tuesday, March 16, 2004
Orchard a politician in search of a party
by Barbara Yaffe
The man responsible for all but destroying Peter MacKay's political career looks not the tiniest bit remorseful.
David Orchard continues to believe he was betrayed by Mr. MacKay. Mr. Orchard, of course, is the Progressive Conservative who at last May's leadership convention threw his support to the Nova Scotia MP in exchange for a promise the new leader would nix any merger with the Canadian Alliance. Mr. MacKay shortly thereafter reneged on the deal.
We all know how things turned out for Mr. MacKay - he opted not to run for the leadership of the new Conservative party because he was so tainted by the Orchard incident.
As for Mr. Orchard, he has returned to his organic farm in Saskatchewan. And when he's not farming, he spends his time doing legal battle with the Conservative party.
The last time Messieurs Orchard and MacKay spoke was Oct. 21, the day Mr. MacKay announced his Eastern-based party would be merging with the western-based Alliance.
Since that time, Mr. Orchard has launched two different lawsuits against the new party.
He's suing to recover $70,000 he says the PCs - now the Conservatives - owe him. He filed suit in mid-February and is awaiting a court date.
He explains that the sum represents money donated to his 2003 leadership campaign, which he transferred to the party so it could issue tax receipts to the donors. The money was then supposed to be returned to the candidate. Also included is a refundable $15,000 deposit Mr. Orchard paid the PC party to contest the leadership.
The lawsuit to recover those funds is quite separate from a second lawsuit he's fighting to nullify the political merger.
He and 23 others - including Sir John A. Macdonald's great grandniece Marie Gatley - are appealing a December Ontario court decision sanctioning the merger. It is scheduled to be heard April 27.
The two lawsuits have become somewhat intertwined. Mr. Orchard believes the party is refusing to pay him the money owed - as it did amicably in the case of Scott Brison, who also ran for the Tory leadership - because of his lawsuit aimed at quashing the new party.
He has been told the Conservative party wants to recover legal costs - a sum of $200,000 - Mr. Orchard is forcing on it by compelling it to defend the merger.
He has also been advised the party would forget about any money owed if he were to withdraw all past merger denunciations, something he won't do.
To cover his legal costs, Mr. Orchard is on a cross-Canada speaking tour to raise cash. He spoke in Vancouver last week. People turn up asking him about the legal pursuits and his political future.
The latter topic is a tough one for Mr. Orchard. "I'm a political orphan."
He'll probably sit out a spring election, despite having been approached to run by just about every party except the Conservatives.
The way Mr. Orchard sees it, a large group of Progressive Conservatives like him have been left homeless. Another group, socially conscious Liberals, has been abandoned by Prime Minister Paul Martin - people like Stephane Dion and Sheila Copps and their followers. He wants to see where these two groups go.
Mr. Orchard has thought about forming a new party but it remains just a thought for the present. He has no idea which party will get his vote in the next election.
He certainly has nothing good to say about the Conservative party. He notes it has no policies and predicts that, through its social conservatism, it will turn off many of its potential supporters.
Mr. Orchard himself is pro-choice on abortion and favours civil unions for gays.
When asked which of the three candidates - Belinda Stronach, Stephen Harper and Tony Clement - would be least offputting as leader, he says he can't say because he disagrees so strongly with the the philosophy of each, particularly with respect to Canada-U.S. relations.
Mr. Orchard remains a strong Canadian nationalist. Clearly he also remains a committed would-be politician in search of a party.