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Listowel Banner (ON), March 9, 2005

Orchard impresses students. Political enigma visits LDSS class

By Greg Bisch

"I would have voted for him," said Caitlin Bellamy, a student in Joe Simpson’s Gr. 12 politics class at Listowel District Secondary School, after a visit to the class by former Progressive Conservative party leadership candidate David Orchard, Feb. 28. "I like the idea that we (Canada) have to be strong for ourselves. I hope in the future his view comes into play."

Walking through the packed halls of LDSS with his timid two-person entourage (one of the two being his brother Grant) Mr. Orchard's presence didn't illicit many second glances from the students (and teachers) on his way to Mr. Simpson's classroom.

It was a different story inside the politics class, however, as about 40 students listened intently (with few blurry eyed exceptions) to Mr. Orchard for almost an hour, and when they had the opportunity to, hurled questions at the author, politician, and organic farmer from Saskatchewan. Mr. Simpson’s students (along with a scattering from Scott Mitchell's Gr. 12 class) were well coached on the political significance of the man in front of them.

"All these pointed questions — these are very good questions," he remarked with a smile after being asked by Gr. 12 student Chud Yuzwa-Reilly where he, as a former Progressive Conservative leadership candidate, stands with the newly formed Conservative party. "You could put our press gallery to shame with your pointed questions."

A figure in Canadian politics for many years, Mr. Orchard is most known for his agreement with Conservative politician Peter MacKay, that should have prevented the merger of the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance to create the Conservative Party of Canada in 2003.

The agreement was signed during a Progressive Conservative leadership convention in May 2003, when Mr. MacKay needed Mr. Orchard’s support to secure his leadership of the PCs. Just over six months later, Mr. MacKay went back on the agreement, and the Conservative Party of Canada was formed.

"That leaves me as a political orphan," Mr. Orchard said in response to Miss Yuzwa-Reilly’s question. "I don’t have a political party, really. . . I don’t have a political home."

Mr. Orchard and other former Progressive Conservatives went to court to try to block the merger with the Canadian Alliance, but failed to stop the union. However, he continues to wrangle with the Conservatives in court, attempting to sue the party for holding $70,000 of his funds — $55,000 from donations to his 2003 leadership campaign — which he already spent during the campaign and that he claims the Conservatives grabbed when he fought against the merger.

FOR CANADA

Mr. Orchard was "making a swing through southwestern Ontario" when he stopped by Mr. Simpson’s class. He said he has several public meetings and speaking engagements in the area, including meetings in London, Cambridge, Cornwall and at Osgoode Hall Law School of York University in Toronto.

Other than Canada's sovereignty from the U.S., Mr. Orchard promotes environmentalism, and respect for international law. He is the author of the national best seller "The Fight for Canada: Four Centuries of Resistance to American Expansionism" and the founder of the Citizens Concerned About Free Trade.

"It is my first time in Listowel and it is a pleasure to see your town and see the area, and to have a chance to speak here," he said. "I am speaking across the country because I don’t want to see Canada assimilated into our powerful neighbour, south of the border. We have had a long history of struggling to maintain our independence as a country and these so-called 'free-trade agreements' have accelerated the integration into that of the United States."

With that, the farmer and politician, caught the attention of his audience, and set the tone for his speech.

"We often lose sight of the view held by some of the leaders you see here," said Mr. Orchard, pointing at a long row of portraits depicting former Canadian prime ministers hanging above Mr. Simpson’s chalkboard. "They fought to keep Canada a separate country. There was a big push in the early days to see our country integrated into the United States . . . We were the very first country in the world to be invaded by the new United States of America in 1775."

"There was an alliance of aboriginal people, French Canadians and the British that fought back and the Americans were pushed out of Canada," he said, then added some history of the British-American War of 1812 and the heroism of Sir Isaac Brock and Shawnee leader Tecumseh saving Canada from U.S. rule.

He told that students about the attempts around 1866 by the U.S. to have Canada annexed to the south.

"At that time we built our railway tracts 10 inches wider than those of the United States to prevent the U.S. troop trains from moving into Canada," Mr. Orchard informed the young political enthusiasts. "It was this threat from the south of the border that lead the leaders of the Canadian colonies to sit down and instead of joining the U.S., they negotiated the Confederation of Canada."

Mr. Orchard added the struggle to have Canada integrated into the U.S. didn't stop there.

"The push that kept coming was that we should have a free trade agreement, that we should have one economy," he said.

"Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, founder of Canada, said if Canada and the United States did not have an economic border, soon there would not be a political border either."

He expressed disappointment with the signing of the Free Trade Agreement in 1988.

"Mr. (Brian) Mulroney got back into power (in 1988) with just 43 per cent of the vote and signed this agreement that is integrating our country more and more into the United States."

Mr. Orchard said Canada never really got free trade.

"Sections of this agreement allows U.S. industry to buy up freely Canadian companies," he said. "We have had 12,000 Canadian companies taken over by U.S. owners since we signed the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement."


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