The Globe and Mail, Saturday, October 11,
'Lone wolf' at parliament's door
The kingmaker seeks a crown of his own
To some, David Orchard is a loose cannon and a
cult leader. To others, he's principled, stubborn and
right. Either way, he's one of Stéphane Dion's few
candidates on the Prairies with a good shot at winning a
CHOICELAND, SASK. -- It is early evening, with
military stripes of geese moving across the harvest moon
that hangs over this field where two combines have been
running well into the dark.
But theirs aren't the only lights on the landscape.
David Orchard, the Liberal candidate in
Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River, is roaring down the
back roads in his 1981 Oldsmobile, a high plume of dust
billowing behind. He is chasing someone - not votes, but
a half-ton carrying two men clad in hunter's orange.
Back and forth the vehicles race, the truck once
giving Mr. Orchard the slip until he loops back and
finally flags it down.
He wants the hunters to leave. Roughly half of his
2,000 acres are given over to organic farming and half
to its natural state, with the restored woods now home
to 40 elk.
Mr. Orchard has nothing against hunting. To do so
would be foolhardy in this riding, which makes up most
of northern Saskatchewan and whose population is
66-per-cent aboriginal - but not on his land, not his
Ron Engel, who is helping Mr. Orchard harvest his
wheat, watches, bemused. "You know," he says, shaking
his head, if forced to choose between losing by "a
single vote or letting that guy hunt, David would choose
If the suave, bearded guy in the Dos Equis beer ads
is "the most interesting man in the world," David
Orchard may be the most interesting man in an election
in which interest is in short supply. He is considered,
by much of the media and many Liberals, as - take your
pick - scary, cultish, weird, intransigent, out of
touch, a zealot. But he is seen by his followers as -
pick again - principled, brilliant, charming, caring,
stubborn and right.
The organic farmer and free-trade activist has run
for Parliament once before, losing in 2000 as a
Progressive Conservative, and twice contested the
leadership of that party before becoming a Liberal and
aiding in the rise of Stéphane Dion.
In fact, he is the only double kingmaker in Canadian
politics: Two years ago, he delivered as many as 150
delegates to put Mr. Dion in a position where fellow
candidates Martha Hall Findlay and Gerard Kennedy could
help him win the leadership. In 2003, he threw his
support to PC winner Peter MacKay, only to be
"betrayed," he says, when Mr. MacKay broke their pact
not to seek union with Stephen Harper's Canadian
Mr. Orchard does not forget easily. He reaches back
into the trunk of his ragged Oldsmobile, with more than
700,000 kilometres on the odometer, and hauls out the
agreement Mr. MacKay signed - carefully wrapped in
plastic for posterity. Nor will he forgive the man who
went on to become Defence Minister in Mr. Harper's
Dismissed by Joe Clark as "a tourist" in the old PC
party, Mr. Orchard seemed, to some, even more the
stranger in Liberal cloth, and when he was denied a shot
at the nomination in last winter's by-election for
Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River - Mr. Dion appointed
Joan Beatty, who had been a provincial minister as a New
Democrat - it was believed he might again charge
Instead, he accepted the insider talk that provincial
strongman Ralph Goodale had pushed Ms. Beatty because
she's a woman and aboriginal. In the end, she lost to
Rob Clarke, a Conservative now running for re-election
with the advantage of incumbency, a leader well liked in
the Prairies, and the Liberals' Green Shift as popular
in the West as the mountain pine beetle.
Undaunted, Mr. Orchard put his legendary
organizational skills to work and decisively defeated
Ms. Beatty for the nomination - remarkably with
impressive support from the aboriginal people in this
sprawling riding the size of Germany. "No one will
decide who will be our voice," says Duane Favel, mayor
of the village of Isle-a-la-Crosse. "We will tell you
who is our voice."
Although Mr. Clarke also is aboriginal, Mr. Orchard
"can win here, absolutely," says Donna Kingfisher, a
councillor at Sturgeon Lake First Nation.
The challenge, he freely admits, will be in getting
out the Liberal native vote and in picking up enough
support in the more conservative southern farmland to
take the seat. His main pitch to the grain farmers is to
defend the Canadian Wheat Board, which the Harper
government would like to eliminate, but it will be tough
sledding. Party insiders say the Liberals have a chance
at electing just two members in Saskatchewan: Mr.
Goodale in Regina and Mr. Orchard.
Mr. Dion is not helping, although Mr. Orchard remains
steadfast in his support. He considers himself a fervent
environmentalist, but the Green Shift is a non-starter
here, and Mr. Dion's recent $650-million compensation
package for farmers reflects that backlash.
"No plan is perfect," he says. "And I don't want to
see fishers, farmers or Northerners penalized for using
fuel for which they have no alternative. There's no
solar tractors yet."
Ashes under rocks
At 58, David Hugh Orchard looks slightly boyish. He
has lost his glasses and the dark mustache that made him
look like a riverboat gambler. He is soft-spoken despite
the hard line he takes on many issues.
He appeared on the national stage in 1985 when he
founded Citizens Concerned About Free Trade, but his
politics go back to his childhood and a father who
preached, "You give till it hurts" when it comes to
His parents, Ralph and Margaret Anna, remain so
central to his guiding principles that he farms both
original family homesteads - one near Choiceland,
northeast of Prince Albert, and the other near Borden,
northwest of Saskatoon. And he keeps their ashes beneath
two huge boulders near a replica of their original log
He went to Halcyonia, the one-room school John George
Diefenbaker attended, sitting at the same desk and
carving "D.H.O." under the "J.G.D." the Chief put there
His childhood heroes remain his grown-up heroes: Mr.
Diefenbaker, of course, and Sir John A. Macdonald, but
also Louis Riel, the Métis leader hanged for treason in
While still a teenager, he joined other farmers for a
1969 tractor convoy into Saskatoon to confront Pierre
Trudeau, then prime minister. Little did he know that a
generation later, Mr. Trudeau would persuade him to join
a party and eventually stand for office.
He dropped out of law school after a year and set off
to see the world. When he returned, he and his brothers
- Douglas, Grant and Lyle - decided to try organic
farming. "We were pioneers," he says.
He learned French, became politicized and spoke out
against free trade and the Meech Lake accord, which put
him back into contact with Mr. Trudeau. Senator Keith
Davey had tried to get him to run for the Liberals in
1988, but he had declined, deciding that the Tories were
a better fit.
Mr. Trudeau, however, "encouraged me to run for the
leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party. He
said, 'You can be the most popular man in Canada, but
without a political vehicle, you will end up a voice
crying in the wilderness.' It was as if the voice of God
He took the advice, signed up thousands of backers
and stunned the media by coming second to Mr. Clark in
Two years later, he went to Montreal to visit Mr.
Trudeau, by then very ill with cancer. " 'You're not a
usual politician,' " he says Mr. Trudeau told him. "
'You don't want to turn this country over to great
enterprises. For what it's worth, I'll be supporting you
and watching from this side.'
"It wasn't until I left that I realized he had said
People are watching from all sides these days, some
Liberals desperately hoping he wins, some desperate that
he not. They fear his strong stances - he condemned the
Afghanistan coalition, he spoke up for Lebanon in its
conflict with Israel - and they shudder to think what he
might say next.
"Is it a colonial mentality that you're not supposed
to speak up?" he asks. "John A. Macdonald spoke up. When
Pierre Trudeau spoke out against Meech Lake, newspapers
were vituperative about this bitter old man who couldn't
stand to be left out. The chattering class, the smart
people attacked him - but who turned out by the millions
to vote with him?"
He realizes he is considered a loose cannon by many
in the party and, in particular, by the eastern media,
but says that "my ideas are actually more mainstream. I
speak for those who are wanting to preserve Canada's
Although Mr. Orchard has an almost evangelical hold
on his followers, the eastern establishment, with its
distrust of populism and preference for sophistication,
finds his presence unpolished, his passions over the
top, his beliefs somehow suspect. Elizabeth Kearns of
White Rock, B.C., who has followed him for years and
come here to help his campaign, says he makes the
establishment shudder because "they're scared of someone
who might want to do something for Canada."
According to Mr. Orchard, "the press makes much of
this cult thing. When another leadership candidate moves
and people move with him, it's described as loyalty, not
some cult. They move with you because they share your
"This notion that it is something strange is in the
fevered minds of the observers."
Hungry like the wolf
The hunters dispatched and the moon rising, Mr.
Orchard resumes combining. "I have neighbours who tell
me: 'You'll get a lot more votes, David, if you'll just
take down those No Hunting signs.' "
But he won't, even if it costs crucial votes in a
In the trunk of the old Olds he carries a framed
poster of a wolf, eyes burning, "Endangered Species"
inscribed below. He plans to hang it in his office: sort
of a self-portrait.
"There are an awful lot of lone wolves across this
country," he says.
"More than you realize."
Roy MacGregor is a Globe and Mail columnist based in