National Post, Thursday, August 17, 2006
Orchard boosts Dion's farm team
by John Ivison
OTTAWA - If you had spent the last few years abroad
-- maybe working for the BBC and teaching human rights
at Harvard -- the Liberal leadership race might seem a
bit like a soap opera you lost touch with long ago.
"So Belinda Stronach, the blonde who used to be a
Conservative, pulled out because she couldn't speak
French, but Bob Rae, who used to be blond and a New
Democrat, is in? Scott Brison? He'd love to be blond but
isn't he a Conservative?"
The story took a further improbable twist yesterday
when that most liberal of Liberals, Stephane Dion,
announced that David Orchard, the Saskatchewan farmer
and former Progressive Conservative leadership
candidate, was backing his campaign. This is the same
David Orchard who has long railed against the North
American Free Trade Agreement and opposed Canadian
involvement in the war in Kosovo, the Meech Lake Accord,
gun control and gay marriage.
The secret to the success of this relationship must
be to avoid mention of the war, and all these other
issues, because Dion is very much for them.
The two do agree on the environment, the central
pillar in Dion's platform, with Orchard pointing out
that he has been an organic farmer for 31 years. Even
here, though, the impetus is very different -- Orchard
contends environmentalism is a conservative idea based
on the impulse to conserve. For his part, Dion says he
welcomes the skills of a man with decades of experience
in sustainable farming.
So why is a conservative Prairie farmer backing the
After years of denouncing the Liberals -- he once
warned they planned to put the military under U.S.
command and merge the two economies -- Orchard joined
the party before the last election, claiming it was the
only home left for former Progressive Conservatives.
It's not hard to fathom why he is disillusioned with
the current iteration of the Conservative party.
Famously, he struck a deal with Peter MacKay in the 2003
PC leadership race, in which Orchard pledged his support
for MacKay's bid in return for an agreement not to merge
with Stephen Harper's Canadian Alliance party.
Six months later, MacKay reneged and joined with
Harper to unite the right. The issue still rankles with
Orchard, and his Web site features an old Montreal
Gazette cartoon of MacKay's handwritten agreement:
"What's most troubling is that anyone with handwriting
this terrible should be running anything."
The real prize for Dion is the number of supporters
who agree with Orchard's unconventional brand of
conservatism, nationalism and environmentalism,
particularly across the Prairies.
Orchard says he is "just a Saskatchewan farmer" and
has no idea how many people may follow his lead. That is
false modesty -- Orchard runs a slick media operation,
and one report said he maintains a database of 30,000
names across the country of people who agree with him.
"If there are others who feel I speak for them, I
urge them to take a serious look at Stephane Dion as
well," he said yesterday.
It's yet another coup for Dion. He is one of the few
names in the race that would be recognizable as a
Liberal by anyone who has been out of the country for
the past decade, even if they probably wouldn't have
touted him as future leadership material.
Yet he has put himself in the top tier of candidates
by virtue of a focused campaign that has received
Last week, a group of 14 current and former female
parliamentarians backed his bid after he committed to
running a minimum of 33% female candidates if he becomes
leader. He now has more of the parliamentary sisters
backing him than any other candidate, which must bode
well for his chances with female delegates.
Stephane Dion -- the thinking woman's dish. Now
there's a plot line in which truth would be stranger