|By Sue Potvin|
Many Canadians think that the organic farmer from Saskatchewan, 52-year-old David Orchard, has as good a chance as any to carry off the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada at its convention in June. With Joe Clark stepping down as leader, Orchard will again be seeking that number one spot.
Orchard was successful in being runner-up to Joe Clark in the 1998 leadership race, and he was labelled "a tourist" by the political veteran at that time -- a charge Mr. Clark now admits was wrong. Orchard has stayed the course, working diligently to earn a future in the PC Party. He has been supportive of the outgoing leader and respectful of all PCers, whether or not they see things his way. And Clark is a big enough man to see that.
In fact, during an interview with Mr. Clark on CTV's Question Period Jan. 7, John Ibbitson said that Orchard "terrifies a lot of Tories" who think he's "an NDP in sheep's clothing" who's going to "hijack the party" and he asked if Clark was concerned about that.
"No, I'm not concerned and he does worry some people," Clark replied. "He worries some commentators about the Conservative Party -- I think more than he does the broad rank and file of the party. To the degree he focusses on the free trade issue, which I think he's moving away a little from, then he upsets people. When he's talking about environmental questions, community questions, he's very much in a familiar Progressive Conservative tradition and, you know, when people talk about broad tents, which is what you need to form a government, then you need to have people that come from various places."
Mentioning the high profile leaders that had seen the Conservative Party throughout the crises of history, and the much higher profile of the Alliance leader, Ibbitson questioned the sense of having the party led by a "no-name" who had to be introduced to 90 per cent of the country.
"You're asking that question of the wrong person," Clark said. "When I was elected, I was 'Joe Who?' Three years later, I was Prime Minister. And serving in that office, particularly, remember, I was fighting a real prime minister -- I was fighting Pierre Trudeau."
"Moving away a little" from the free trade issue would not be a difficult thing for Orchard to do. Several years ago, he founded Citizens Concerned About Free Trade (CCAFT), bringing together 30,000 like-minded Canadians to fight the problem. It was not the idea of trade or free trade itself that he opposed -- as he patiently points out each time he is accused of being anti-trade, "I don't eat all my wheat, I trade it. "It's a fact that his home province of Saskatchewan is Canada's most trade-dependent province.
It is the specific agreements, the FTA and NAFTA, which he sees as seriously damaging Canadian sovereignty. This point of view has been, belatedly, shared by such outspoken proponents of the FTA as Peter Lougheed and the late Supreme Court Judge Willard Estey.
Canada's sovereignty has Orchard deeply concerned. He sees far too many Canadians' rights and freedoms being sacrificed to transnational corporations in the global village.
Canada's foreign policy, the huge and growing foreign ownership of Canadian companies, and the issue of having Canada adopt the U.S. dollar are all serious threats to our national identity and quality of life, he believes, saying that Canadians will be making "a mortal mistake" if we don't act now to preserve our identity.
And there are benefits in true free trade, he says. But its the terms of the l989 and 1994 agreements that are putting Canada at a continual competitive disadvantage.
Those terms dictate that 60 per cent of Canada's natural gas must go to the Americans, he notes, and that other energy sources such as petroleum from the tar sands "goes across the border at zero per cent royalty." He laments that Canada signed an energy policy that the Mexicans refused to sign.
In the 14 years since the first agreement was signed with the U.S., 10,000 Canadian companies have been taken over by American interests. Then there's Chapter 11 of the NAFTA which gives the right to foreign companies to sue the Canadian government -- and 15 U.S. companies have already done so. This has cost Canadian taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and forced Canada to keep the harmful fuel additive MMT -- even though California and some European nations have banned it.
Orchard contends that the leaders of both the Liberals and the Conservatives have spoken against the free trade agreements with the U.S., only to flip-flop once they were in power. This simply shows the level of control held by business interests who are only concerned about the profit line. He endorses a plan to ensure that public funding of political parties would greatly reduce the pressure that big business puts on politicians whose campaigns they have helped fund.
Environmental concerns have been high on Orchard's list since before it ever became a popular stand. His record of farming organically for the past 27 years is prime proof of that. He farms over 2,000 acres of wheat, oats and alfalfa, leaving the remaining quarter of his acreage in natural forest and prairie habitat.
For 15 years, Orchard and other certified organic farmers have been trying to obtain national certification standards but have been defeated by the all-powerful chemical lobby. International drug and chemical companies are accused of selling farmers large volumes of toxic pesticides and herbicides that pollute the water, food and environment. They then sell equally large volumes of drugs to try to repair the damage done by the chemical pollution. Orchard wants the clout to change this.
Proportional representation is another issue that Orchard advocates -- seeking changes to an antiquated and unjust electoral system that effectively filters out the social conscience of our society and leaves only the agenda of the greedy, as columnist Matt Foster put it in The Cambridge Reporter last Dec. 27. Foster shocked his friends when he joined the PC Party because of Orchard, he said.
Many people are taking a second look at David Orchard, and he is catching the attention of many in the media who would barely give him the time of day five years ago.
The Globe and Mail's Jeffrey Simpson describes other leadership possibilities -- Peter MacKay, Scott Brison, and Jim Prentice -- as "decent, intelligent people," none of who will "set the heather aflame." Jim Flaherty, he says, is "a further sign of the party's desperation." While he doesn't include Orchard in these comments, he does use Orchard's anti-free-trade stance to say he is not a Conservative. It is not the first time this claim has been made.
Well, perhaps Orchard needs to be given the opportunity to "set the heather aflame" in Canada -- to resurrect the old PC Party that was able to set the Liberals on their heels in many an election -- before it was sent in a different direction by the one person whose policies appear to have brought the once-mighty party to ruin, Brian Mulroney.
Canada's oldest political party, the Conservatives, achieved Confederation against the vehement opposition of the Rouges (forerunners of the Liberal Party), some of whom argued for union with the United States, Orchard explains in a Globe and Mail article. It was the Conservatives who refused to allow the entry of U.S. railways into Canada, who fought the Liberals in opposition to the building of the Canada-only railway system that ensured the entry of western provinces into Confederation.
"Canada's great Conservative leaders were adamant in their opposition to free trade with the United States," Orchard says. "The idea was, Macdonald said, 'sheer insanity' that would have 'as its inevitable result, annexation.' How could Canada keep its political independence after it had thrown away its economic independence?"
In 1911, Wilfrid Laurier and his Liberals negotiated a free-trade agreement with the U.S. that was defeated by the Conservatives under Robert Borden.
Then along came Brian Mulroney oozing golden tones and charm. He wrapped the PC party up in a bright and beautiful package that swept Canadians into approving his wonderfully cosy relationship with the elephant to the south and the many changes that he engineered. Yes, he brought Canadians free trade, apparently totally forgetting that in 1983, he had said that free trade was a danger to Canadian sovereignty. But American influence began its subtle creep in Canada -- over disappearing borders, gobbling up control in every aspect of the economy. Even political power often bows to the American will.
And in his dance with Canadians, Mulroney did a swing to the right with the PC Party.
When Canadians realised all was not milk and honey, Mulroney's popularity started nose-diving. Before things could get too bad, he dropped his shrinking PC package in someone else's lap -- the short-lived Kim Campbell -- and Mulroney lived to laugh another day, raking in his rewards by sitting on the boards of the many corporations his actions had benefitted.
The result of Mulroney's tenure? A devastated PC Party that has since been struggling to recover.
Brian Mulroney is still the PC leader that some members revere. His policies are the policies that some PCers still espouse. And that is why so many Canadians who were formerly supporters of the PC party have not returned to the sunken ship.
David Orchard wants to change that. He is a staunch admirer of those former Conservative leaders who built this country. He believes, by changing the party's direction to its original path, he can remind Canadians about these proud roots and restore the party to its former glory.
Orchard sincerely believes that only the Tories have a shot at taking over government from the Liberals and that he is the man to lead them there.
Indeed, Canadians are searching desperately for an alternative party with a broad enough base to make a difference. And Orchard, his sincere concern for Canadians obvious for all to see, has been speaking to standing-room-only crowds of late.
"The PC party faces a golden opportunity to rebuild itself," Orchard says "to build on the excellent job Joe Clark and his caucus are doing in the House and to reconnect with the Canadian public."
Ask him about getting together with the Alliance and he quickly puts that idea where it belongs: "Marriage to the Reform/Alliance is a substitute for a vision of the future and hardly the way to fire the imagination of Canadians. It is time to stop looking backwards, stop spinning our wheels and stop flirting with oblivion. There is a brave new world out there with burning issues for those bold enough to respond. Let's seize the moment."
There are many who believe Orchard's "moment" has indeed come.
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