The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon), Friday, December 8, 2006
Orchard's strategic influence
by Randy Burton
If delivering support to the winning candidate means
anything in politics, then David Orchard's star must
surely be on the rise in the Liberal party.
The longtime critic of free trade, two-time candidate
for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party
and new Liberal can be credited for playing a
significant role in Stephane Dion's rise to the Liberal
Exact totals are unclear at the moment, but Orchard's
organization managed to deliver close to 150 delegate
votes at the Montreal convention -- 32 of which came
In fact, every Dion delegate from Saskatchewan but
one was part of the Orchard camp.
Some were prior Liberals, but many were personal
supporters of Orchard from past campaigns. The Orchard
camp helped many of them raise the money to go and most
of them stayed together at the same hotel, where they
had booked a block of rooms.
If Dion was the outsider from within the Liberal
establishment, then it seems somehow fitting he should
have the support of a consummate outsider like Orchard.
Their partnership could not have been more
successful. As the record shows, Dion garnered 854 votes
on the first ballot, beating out rival Gerard Kennedy by
just two votes on the first ballot. As a result of their
prior agreement, Kennedy wound up throwing his support
to Dion, which sealed his win. Had the first ballot gone
the other way, Kennedy might be the leader today.
There were many reasons why Dion won, but he
obviously would not have had the horses to overtake
Kennedy without Orchard's support.
Once again, the man many dismiss as a political
gadfly has proven it's a mistake to underestimate his
Through organizations dating back to the mid-1980s,
from the free trade wars to two runs for the Progressive
Conservative leadership, Orchard has built a huge list
of contacts. His chief organizer, Marjaleena Repo,
estimates they now have some 39,000 names in their
There may have been other people supporting Dion with
this kind of reach, but certainly no one who reaches the
variety of people who tend to support Orchard. Some are
environmentalists seeking pesticide bans; others want to
promote organic farming and the Canadian Wheat Board.
Still others believe Canadian foreign policy is tilted
too far in favour of Israel.
What they have in common is that they see Orchard as
a means of empowering ordinary people. In an era where
party affiliation means little, Orchard has managed to
construct a portable power base that has now influenced
the outcome of three different national leadership
This turn of events raises some very interesting
questions about Orchard's future. There's no doubt he
intends to remain active in Liberal politics, and there
are a number of issues he intends to press.
The Canadian Wheat Board issue is one of those, as is
tighter controls on pesticides and the ongoing problem
of low farm income. At the convention, Orchard was
rubbing shoulders with former agriculture minister
Eugene Whelan, and he's now in conversation with John
Turner's former ag minister, Ralph Ferguson, who wants
his help on farm policy issues.
If Dion should eventually become prime minister --
and every elected Liberal leader since 1896 has --
Orchard will be well-positioned to play a role in a
How intoxicating the prospect must seem for him. The
perpetual outsider who had so much difficulty gaining
the respect of the Progressive Conservative hierarchy
now finds his opinion sought out by players in the
Should he decide to run for the Liberals and actually
win a seat, he might even have a shot at a cabinet post.
Many will blanch at this prospect, but stranger
things have happened.
Orchard is noncommittal at this point, but admits
he's considering running.
In an interview this week, he said he has had
invitations to run for the Liberals in a variety of
ridings across the country.
"I have to take a look at all of them and decide
where to go," he said.
However, his farm and his history are in Saskatoon
Wanuskewin, where he recently celebrated the 100th
anniversary of his family's farm.
Wanuskewin remains firmly in the grip of Conservative
MP Maurice Vellacott, but Orchard is clearly tempted by
the prospect of running against him.
Whether it's the Conservatives' efforts to undermine
the wheat board, or Vellacott's "whole-hearted support
for the bombing of Lebanon," Orchard says his current MP
leaves plenty to be desired.
As other high-profile candidates such as Chris
Axworthy have learned, Vellacott is not easy to beat.
But there's a certain symmetry to the idea. Who better
to take on the ideologically driven Vellacott than the
equally hard-nosed Orchard? It would pit Vellacott's
disciplined group of evangelicals and pro-lifers against
Orchard's coalition of greens, anti-free traders and
In many ways it would be a microcosm of the national
campaign, right here on our own doorstep.
You could sell tickets to a contest like that.