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Lawrence Martin's mythmaking about the Orchard-MacKay deal

(Not accepted by the Globe for publication.)

By Marjaleena Repo

Lawrence Martin, in his article, "The secret deal that undercut MacKay, and the old Tories" (Globe and Mail, June 2, 2015), turns the world upside down when he claims that the "secret backroom deal" that David Orchard signed with Peter MacKay destroyed the Progressive Conservative party. As a full-fledged participant in that historic event I feel obligated to correct Martin's seriously flawed portrayal. As David Orchard's senior adviser I was present when the agreement was negotiated and signed, and, unlike Martin, have first-hand experience of what took place afterwards.

The myth of the "secret backroom deal"

The agreement was "secret" only as long as it took Orchard and MacKay to get from the hotel room where the negotiations had taken place to the podium to declare that an agreement was made and to read out its contents. This was done in front of all the delegates who were just about to vote for the final ballot, and therefore were very present, and in front of the wall-to-wall media. Less than 48 hours later it was made fully available in its written form to the country's media. (The miniscule delay was MacKay's who wanted his caucus to see the contract before it was released to the media; not an indecent demand.)

Author and member of MacKay's campaign team, Bob Plamondon, has this to say about "backroom secrecy:" "It was probably the most public agreement ever struck at a political convention. It was also unique in that the agreement was in writing for all to see, with photographs to mark the occasion." (Further, Plamondon writes, quoting campaign veteran Bill Pristanski, "it was likely the first deal ever struck at a convention that did not include a request from the losing candidate for money to cover campaign debts plus a position in the party or government.") Mr. Martin should have been well aware of this information as he wrote the foreword to Mr. Plamondon's 2006 book, Full Circle: Death and Resurrection in the Canadian Conservative Politics, where these quotes are from.

The myth of the deal itself destroying the PC Party of Canada

This claim is particularly strange as if the agreement itself and the signing of it was somehow the instrument of the destruction of Canada's founding party and there was no human agent involved. Martin does not call a spade a spade: that MacKay lied to the party members by presenting himself as "I'm not a merger candidate" during the leadership campaign and then lied to David Orchard that he wouldn't pursue merger with the Alliance, this in order to get Orchard delegates' support in the final ballot. "Going back on his word," Martin's mild expression, is whitewash of what actually took place: betrayal, trickery, lies, treachery, and regarding what MacKay did to his party, only the word "treason" suffices.

Martin makes much of the hysterical media reaction to the deal, but bulk of this reaction was predictable, as almost all of it came from right-wing newspapers which had advocated for "unite the right" for years and had treated the previous leader, Joe Clark, in an extraordinarily hostile fashion, seeing him as an obstacle to the wished-for hegemony of the Alliance. (After the convention they went off the rails in attacking David Orchard, their rage reaching murderous dimensions when Financial Post's Terence Corcoran demanded that Orchard be "blown away.") Meanwhile public opinion polls showed support for the Orchard-MacKay deal and the prospects for the PC Party.

Things are getting even stranger when Martin writes that "[W]ere it not for the Orchard blunder, he would have certainly led the PCs into another election." The "blunder" was MacKay's and his alone, and should thus be named, instead of suggesting that David Orchard had done something wrong! I am certain that had he held to his agreement and treated David Orchard with respect, MacKay would have led the PC Party to vastly improved results in the 2004 election where Canadians were looking for an alternative to Paul Martin's troubled Liberals. The combination of MacKay's parliamentary experience and David Orchard's proven ability to attract thousands of new members to the party would have meant the revitalization of the party and its guaranteed survival despite Alliance's increasingly desperate and aggressive attempts to destroy it.

Lawrence Martin, bizarrely, ends up giving MacKay "credit for his role in unifying the political right," which is akin to congratulating a bank robber for a successful heist.

Marjaleena Repo was the campaign manager for David Orchard's two leadership campaigns and also acted as his senior advisor in the 2003 race. She was the Saskatchewan vice-president of the PC Party of Canada and as such a member of the party's last management committee.

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