Toronto Star, March 24, 2003
Tory candidates poles apart on call to arms
by Chantal Hébert
MONTREAL—If the federal Tories had been
in power last week, Canada might have joined the United States and
Britain in the war on Iraq. But then again, it might not.
That would have depended on the identity of their leader.
As the seven men who vie to replace Joe Clark engaged in the second
of the campaign's leadership debates in Montreal yesterday, it was
quickly apparent that on the defining issue of the day the top contenders
to lead the Progressive Conservative party are poles apart.
Frontrunner Peter MacKay would have answered the call to arms of
the White House. As would Scott Brison, Jim Prentice and Craig Chandler,
the latter cheering all the way.
But David Orchard — who is running a solid second in the
race for delegates so far — would have kept Canada out of
He is not alone. André Bachand, the party's only Quebec
MP, and Heward Grafftey, a former cabinet minister in the Clark
government, both feel Canada should stay out of the war.
And while some diehard Tories would argue that Orchard —
who they see as a left-winger — can be counted on to bring
unorthodox views to the fore, it should be noted that Jean Charest
— the past leader who won the most seats for the Tories since
Brian Mulroney retired — is sporting the white ribbon of the
peace movement on the Quebec election trail.
An aside here: ever since Orchard first surfaced as a Tory leadership
contender in 1998, most of the party establishment has treated him
like a creature from outer space.
Again yesterday, some of the other contenders magnanimously conceded
the Saskatchewan farmer's right to be part of the campaign.
But such exchanges are increasingly taking on a surrealistic tinge
considering that Orchard is running second only to MacKay; that
he is winning delegates in every province and that he has probably
brought more new members to the beleaguered party than anyone else
over the past five years.
Indeed, yesterday in Montreal, his supporters outnumbered those
of the Quebec candidates.
Moreover, in the particular case of Iraq, the irreconcilable differences
between the leading candidates are a symptom of a Tory malaise that
has roots elsewhere than in Orchard's presence on the leadership
Over the past decade, the Tories have increasingly failed to have
identifiable positions on issues that matter.
That's because they have usually found it impossible to come to
anything but superficial consensus.
In this fashion, Clark came down against the Clarity act on Quebec
secession but many of his MPs did not.
After the Quebec referendum, Charest did not show up to vote on
Jean Chrétien's distinct-society resolution amidst rumours
that he and his lone seatmate Elsie Wayne could not come to a common
Now, it seems the leadership campaign will exacerbate rather than
resolve the debate about the ongoing purpose of the party.
It will likely take more than one ballot to select the next Tory
leader at the end of May convention.
A stop-Orchard movement might still bring MacKay over the 50 per
cent line in only one ballot.
But that has not happened so far.
Instead, the bulk of the Tory membership is split between candidates
whose political visions are clearly irreconcilable with MacKay wining
the support of 40 per cent of the delegates selected to date and
Orchard 31 per cent.
A note in closing: The Montreal debate was meant to remind Canadians
of the party's national roots.
But it also demonstrated that, whatever the outcome, the Tories
will be led by the least bilingual leader of the federal pack in
the next election.
One would have to go back to John Diefenbaker to find a Tory leader
less proficient in French than those most likely to succeed Clark.
To put it mildly, the only two fully bilingual candidates in the
race are not taking the party by storm.
Bachand, the party's lone Quebec MP, is running fifth in his own
province while Grafftey has yet to win the support of a single delegate
And so the race will be decided among four contenders whose French
is about on par with the average Canadian high school graduate.
When it comes to language skills and against all conventional wisdom,
the two candidates from Western Canada, Jim Prentice and David Orchard,
are ultimately more promising that the Nova Scotia duo of MacKay
That's interesting because as MPs, the latter both had continuous
access to language training for all their years in Parliament.
Either they did not make much of the opportunity or else they share
Preston Manning and Brian Tobin's inability to speak a second language
is a national affairs writer. Her column appears Monday, Wednesday
and Friday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.