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The StarPhoenix, Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Orchard offers support to Grits
Former leadership hopeful says Conservative gov't would work with Bloc

By Janet French

Former Progressive Conservative leadership hopeful David Orchard publicly backed the Liberals Tuesday, calling a Stephen Harper Conservative government a threat to national unity.

"In triggering this election at this time, both Harper and (NDP Leader Jack) Layton were prepared to play with the fires of Quebec nationalism in order to increase their own positions," Orchard said. "It's a dangerous and a short-term effort that could hurt our country badly. I believe that there's only one party capable of holding our country together, and that's (the Liberals)."

Orchard, who farms near Borden, made the statements in Saskatoon while announcing he is backing Saskatoon-Wanuskewin Liberal candidate Chris Axworthy, a friend of 20 years.

If the Conservatives form government, they will govern with the support of the Bloc Quebecois and work towards granting more power to the provinces, Orchard said.

"The Bloc will certainly be right there with him (Harper) on that," he said. "That will be another wonderful step forward for the separatists in their strategy of step-by-step taking Quebec out of Canada."

In 2003, when Orchard ran against Peter MacKay for leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party, he signed a deal with MacKay in which Orchard supporters voted for MacKay in exchange for his word he would not merge the party with the Canadian Alliance. MacKay later reneged on his promise and Orchard failed in a bid to stop the parties from merging into the Conservative Party of Canada.

Orchard also says the Conservative party owes him $70,000 in campaign donations he garnered during the leadership race.

"These are the men who clothe themselves in white robes as paragons of virtue, telling us they're going to run a government based on honesty, ethics and integrity," Orchard said.

Orchard, an opponent of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), also said he's pleased with how Prime Minister Paul Martin has been holding America's feet to the fire over the softwood lumber dispute.

Axworthy said Orchard's endorsement is "not to necessarily attract voters," but to help voters understand the Liberals' plans.

Saskatoon-Wanuskewin Conservative candidate Maurice Vellacott said he doesn't think Orchard's endorsement of Axworthy will have much effect on voters.

"David has something of a personal issue with Peter MacKay and he kind of blows it (up) or tries to take it bigger," Vellacott said. "He's feeling jilted out of that relationship. But I think the public can see beyond that. They're not interested in these disagreements. It's petty to them and trivial in view of the larger issues here."

Giving powers to the provinces will empower the West rather than send Quebec packing, Vellacott said.

"The federal government, with their spending power, has kind of bought their way into a bunch of other areas that nobody asked them to be involved in and are much better handled closer to home at the provincial and the municipal levels of government," he said.

Jim Maddin, the riding's NDP candidate, said Orchard and Axworthy should spend more time talking to voters and less time crossing party lines. Axworthy was an NDP MP in Saskatoon from 1988 to 1999 and then served as a provincial NDP cabinet minister.

"It certainly has an impact or could have an impact in this riding," Maddin said of Orchard's Liberal endorsement. "(But) politicians talking to politicians and not to voters -- I don't know if that bodes well for any of them, to be honest with you."


jfrench@sp.canwest.com


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