It isn't surprising to read that the Tory establishment is more than a little nervous about David Orchard's leadership candidacy. While New Brunswick MP John Herron glibly dismisses Mr. Orchard as a party 'hitchhiker,' Mr. Orchard was runner-up to Joe Clark's successful bid last time around. That means his message of Canadian nationalism rings true with voters, and that means he could well move up the middle between the other PC leadership hopefuls to clinch the leadership.
That would not be a good thing for the party establishment and other candidates who are firmly associated with the new image cast for the party over the past 20 years. With Brian Mulroney as the standard bearer, the New Age Tories became synonymous with a global corporate agenda cast in the penthouse offices of Canada's largest companies, many with American parents.
Foreign investment rules, Canadian content rules, crown corporations running airlines and trains, Petro-Canada which returned to Canadians some benefits of a regional resource, regional economic development corporations, public health care, unemployment insurance, the Auto Pact, the CBC, the Canadian Wheat Board, Pierre Trudeau's 'just society' - all were impediments to free wheeling and dealing across the border and all stuck in the collective corporate craw.
Provoked to action by Pierre Trudeau's impertinence, the Business Council on National Issues (BCNI, now called the Canadian Council of Chief Executives) was formed to plot the takeover of Canadian politics and the dismantling of those Canada-building institutions that are (or were) integral to Canadian identity. In Brian Mulroney, a captain of industry himself, they found a partner willing to stand on their platform of free trade with the U.S., deregulation, and privatization - a platform he denied until after his 1983 election.
Couched in the language of fear, the message to Canadians was that our economy was collapsing under high debt, high taxes and protectionism. Mr. Mulroney substituted the protection of Canadian interests with the protection of corporate profits as embodied in the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. (Because the pharmaceutical industry wasn't included in the FTA, Mr. Mulroney covered that off with unprecedented patent protection legislation, a move that would send health care costs skyrocketing.)
The upshot of the Tory sell-out to the BCNI was the party's near annihilation, and their banishment to political purgatory.
How long they remain there depends on whether they understand from whence their current irrelevancy came. Only one leadership candidate - David Orchard - is speaking the truth on this matter. His message is that what the New Age Tories now claim as the definition of conservatism - unfettered free trade, open borders, small, non-interventionist government - is in fact a gross aberration of the Tory legacy in Canada.
Mr. Orchard reminds us that in the first 70 years of our nation, Tory prime ministers brought us the CPR, the CNR (by nationalizing five railways), the CBC, the Canadian Wheat Board, and the Bank of Canada. Heck, they brought us Canada, standing against repeated efforts of Liberals to tie our fortunes to the business interests south of the border through free trade.
To those who would say that taking our cues from long dead colonial politicians is to be blind to the future, hear the prophetic words of John A. Macdonald and Georges-Etienne Cartier. Macdonald called free trade with the U.S. "sheer insanity" that would have "as its inevitable result, annexation." Canada could not keep its political independence after it had thrown away its economic independence, he declared. Cartier went further, saying the end result would be union of the two countries, "that is to say, our annihilation as a nation."
Today, with NAFTA as our new economic constitution, the economic annexation of Canada is complete. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than its Chapter 11 which allows foreign corporations to sue signatory governments for profits lost or foregone as a result of government regulation. Now, in those elite chambers that brought us free trade, the chatter is about 'deep integration,' incorporating a common currency, immigration policy and border security, labour markets, the energy sector, environmental protection, social policy, law enforcement, and foreign policy.
MacDonald and Cartier had it right, and David Orchard has it right. We are facing the end of our country as we know it unless we repudiate this agenda and turn back to our roots. Mr. Orchard's passionate defence of Canada against the disintegrating forces of economic agreements that supercede national governments, has its genesis in the earliest debates between Whigs and Tories about the kind of country Canada should and would be.
Many Canadians feel a great hurt was inflicted on Canada by Brian Mulroney, who instigated the unravelling of nearly everything that defined our collective self. Mr. Orchard's campaign is fundamentally about healing a wound that was struck in the heart of our nation.
That's why people respond so favourably to him. He speaks for Canada, not for narrow special interests.
In excoriating Mr. Orchard as a special interest pleader, the Tory establishment is in deep denial. Their party was highjacked by special interests - the BCNI - 20 years ago. The Scott Brisons, Peter MacKays and Jim Prentices of the party are foot soldiers in a dead-end campaign to protect the disastrous Mulroney legacy that ensued. The Tories' only hope for redemption is to let Mr. Orchard take them back to their roots.
Otherwise, there is no reason for anyone to care.
Janice Harvey is a freelance writer. Her column appears on Wednesday. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org