Ottawa Sun, Sunday, March 16, 2003
Orchard shakes up PCs
Meteoric rise of anti-free trader's campaign has true-blue
Tories seeing red
by Kathleen Harris, Parliamentary Bureau
In the skeptical eyes of party faithful, he's the wolf in Tory
clothing who just won't go away.
David Orchard, the intellectual organic farmer from the Prairies,
stubbornly insists he's a true Canadian and loyal Progressive Conservative.
But party insiders claim his anti-free trade, pro-environment agenda
puts him more in line with the NDP and Green party.
Orchard's populist, pro-Canadian message is catching on across
the country -- and it's making true-blue Tories nervous. He's bagging
an eclectic mix of supporters, from disaffected Liberals and anti-globalization
protest-hippie types to celebrity icons and elite business leaders.
As Orchard's leadership campaign builds steam, money and big-name
support, rank-and-file Tories are publicly diplomatic, but privately
scrambling to stop it from snatching the prize. What was once a
remote possibility is now a real threat -- and the sinking party
can't afford to lose diehard members who will walk if Orchard wins.
Orchard is perplexed by the inside wall of opposition and laments
an onslaught of "dirty tricks" to discredit his leadership bid.
"I've worked hard for the party, organizing and rejuvenating,"
he says. "I've paid my dues, I've brought in thousands of members
and hundreds of thousands of dollars in dues and donations. How
does this qualify as hijacking?"
STOMPIN' TOM IN TOW
A John Diefenbaker buff, Orchard's goal is to reconnect the party
to its earlier, "honourable" roots. While that's made him an outcast
within Tory ranks, it's elevated him to near cult-hero status with
the famous and powerful.
Singer-songwriter Stompin' Tom Connors, author Margaret Atwood
and wildlife artist Robert Bateman have lent support to his campaign,
joining business leaders such as Nova founder Bob Blair and former
Noranda chief Adam Zimmerman. There's also word Frank Stronach and
daughter Belinda of auto parts giant Magna International have thrown
financial support behind Orchard's bid.
Asked to confirm whether Stronach underwrote a $250,000 line of
credit for the cause, Magna spokesman Jim Warren responded: "No
Orchard laughed off that figure, but confirmed Stronach is on his
"I've known Frank a long time and I appreciate his support."
Tory insiders say Orchard, tapping into anti-war sentiment, is
also backed by labour groups.
With a distant second-place finish to Joe Clark in the 1998 leadership
race, followed by a defeated bid for a Saskatchewan seat in the
2000 federal election, Orchard and his team gained valuable experience
while building support.
Tory insiders say behind the public image of the "sweet Saskatchewan
farmer" lies a savvy strategist, tireless campaigner and master
organizer. Now nipping at the heels of early frontrunner Peter MacKay,
a seasoned MP and former Nova Scotia Crown attorney, Orchard is
shaking the Tory establishment.
With seven candidates in the race, some in other leadership camps
say the "Orchard scare" is being hyped up by the MacKay team to
bolster its support.
Asad Wali, spokesman for the Scott Brison campaign, suggests MacKay's
backers are whipping up fear to pressure members to support the
"They're saying, 'We're the safe choice to stop Orchard,' " he
says. "It's inside baseball paranoia politics."
Goldy Hyder, a party strategist who's remaining neutral in the
race, said Orchard's not likely to win a leadership vote.
Still, Orchard's strong showing is cause for worry among those
who see him as a "traitor" who rejects mainstream Conservative ideology.
Hyder prefers to view Orchard as one side of a diverse range of
opinions that mirror the Canadian reality and makes for healthy
At this point, the son of Brian Mulroney minister Elmer MacKay
is clearly favoured to win. Peter MacKay appeals to a broad base
of party members with his experience, relative youth (he's 37) and
Hyder describes the race as "Peter's to lose," but cautions it's
early days. Delegate selection continues until early April and the
leader won't be chosen until June 1.
Brison, another Nova Scotia MP and former investment banker, is
considered the "ideas man" in the group. Insisting the party can't
gain new ground with stale ideas, he wants to cancel regional development
programs, overhaul Employment Insurance and establish closer ties
and border security with the U.S.
Tory Leader Joe Clark has remained neutral, but his daughter, Catherine,
has been selected as a Brison delegate in a Toronto riding.
Quebec MP Andre Bachand joined the race late, but is considered
a strong, bright candidate who will do well on home turf. He unveils
his platform tomorrow.
Jim Prentice, a Calgary lawyer and businessman who bills himself
as an experienced bridge builder who resonates with "Main Street"
Canadians, doesn't have the profile of other candidates. But some
see a potential dark horse.
"If there's an upset, I'd pick him," Hyder says.
Craig Chandler, a businessman who's campaigning to unite the right,
and Heward Grafftey, a former Tory minister from Quebec, are considered
"non-factors" in the race.
Right now, MacKay and Orchard are duelling for first place with
polar opposite visions for the party's future.
Orchard wants to drag it back in history, vowing to protect Canada's
sovereignty and dollar and rebuild the military and keep it under
domestic command. MacKay wants to move the Tories forward, modernizing
the party to give Canadians a fresh, policy-driven alternative to
As Orchard's grassroots support grows, the party's tolerance level
But he's fighting hard on the ground to win -- and that means shrugging
off barbs from within.
"Someone reminded me recently that John Diefenbaker once said,
'They always throw stones at the best apples in the orchard.' "