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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?"


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 comment."

Orchard laughed off that figure, but confirmed Stronach is on his side.

"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 frontrunner.

"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 debate.

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 Tory pedigree.

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 the Liberals.

As Orchard's grassroots support grows, the party's tolerance level drops.

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.' "

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