Orchard has never held political office in Canada, but from time to time has emerged as an irritant or gadfly to various powerful forces within the country. He is perhaps best known for his campaign to oppose the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, and has since become a prominant activist against free trade of all sorts, campaigning against the North American Free Trade Agreement, the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas and the World Trade Organization.
Orchard is a 4th-generation organic grain farmer, and also a the author of the book The Fight for Canada: Four Centuries of Resistance to American Expansionism. He is also a co-founder of CCAFT (Citizens Concerned About Free Trade), founded in 1985.
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Educated in Borden, Orchard went on to study arts and science and then law at the University of Saskatchewan in nearby Saskatoon. He later studied French at Quebec City's Laval University. Orchard lives on his family farm and is in the organic agriculture business.
Controversies and Criticisms
Orchard is seen by some as a "Red" or moderate Tory and claims to be ideologically inspired by his political idols former prime ministers John Diefenbaker, R.B. Bennett, Robert Borden and Sir John A. Macdonald. He is a harsh critic of most aspects of the United States, and has repeatedly criticized the country's politicians, business leaders, and social cutlture. He is thus quite passionately opposed to Canadian economic integration with the United States, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he says impedes Canada's economic and cultural sovereignty. His harsh condemnations of the United States have led to some accusations that his political ideology is primarily motivated by anti-Americanism, an thus not nessisarily traditional right or left wing beliefs.
Orchard is also a devoted monarchist, and supports an increase in federal powers at the expense of the provinces. He also supported the campaign against the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords, calling them "The mortal weakening of the central government". He also advocates that 3 to 5 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product go to military spending. He is opposed to gun control.
Orchard has many critics within the former Progressive Conservative Party and elsewhere. He was accused of being an opportunist socialist who tried to hijack the weak Progressive Conservative Party and steer it in a more radical direction. In his first campaign for the PC Party leadership, one opponent mockingly suggested that "Orchard is so left-wing, he thinks Svend Robinson is a right-wing maniac." Orchard describes his own views as being conservative in the "historical mainstream" and "centrist" of the Tory party, and claims they would appeal to moderate Canadians. Orchard's beliefs are perhaps best likened to that of the traditional, British Tory, which although historically common in Canada, have lost much relevance since the rise of the so-called neoconservative faction.
He has never been elected to the Canadian House of Commons or to any public office. He sought election in the federal riding of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan in the 2000 federal election, placing a distant third, though admittedly his showing was the highest percentage of actual vote received by a Progressive Conservative candidate in Saskatchewan since 1993.
Orchard ran twice in PC leadership elections, in 1998 and in 2003. In 1998, he was a distant second to Joe Clark on the final ballot but attracted a very different group of supporters to the Tory party in doing so. Many of Orchard's supporters were former members of the other political parties in Canada. During the relatively quiet race, Clark famously referred to Orchard as a "tourist" in the Tory party because of his left-leaning economic platform and opposition to the free trade agreements brokered by the Brian Mulroney government in the late 1980's and early 1990's. However, Orchard did gain respect from PC circles when he chose to stick with the Tories after Clark's victory. Orchard and his political advisor Marjaleena Repo worked hard after his failed leadership bid to rebuild several Saskatchewan PC constituency associations and improve PC membership sales across Canada.
Ironically, Orchard was one of Clark's staunchest defenders during the lead-up to the August 2002 convention that saw Clark resign as Tory leader after the disintegration of the parliamentary PC-Democratic Representative Caucus coalition caucus in May 2002. Respect for Orchard grew in the Red Tory wing of the PC Party: roughly one-quarter of the party membership supported him during the 2003 PC leadership campaign, including Joe Clark's wife, Maureen McTeer. Orchard ultimately came in third in the 2003 PC leadership campaign, behind Nova Scotia MP Peter MacKay and Calgary Lawyer Jim Prentice on the third ballot. Orchard decided to support Peter MacKay over Jim Prentice due to the latter's implicit support for a United Alternative (merger of the party with the Canadian Alliance (CA) party). However, Orchard's support, which helped Peter MacKay win the leadership, came at price. MacKay had to agree to a backroom deal or "gentleman's agreement" to seal support from Orchard's largely loyal delegates on the final ballot.
"A deal with the devil"
The infamous deal promised a review of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, no joint candidates with the Canadian Alliance and a promise to redouble efforts to rebuild the national status of the Progressive Conservative Party. The agreement also included reexamining the PC Party's policies on government subsidies for national railways and preserving the environment. This agreement prompted much outrage and controversy amongst United Alternative supporters and was ribaldly referred to by CA MP Jason Kenney as "a deal with the Devil."
At first MacKay had seemed to be willing to adhere to the deal. In July, MacKay struck up a "Blue Ribbon PC Policy Review Panel," chaired by Tory MP Bill Casey, in order to reexamine the party's policies on NAFTA. But MacKay soon violated the deal by encouraging talks between high-profile members of the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives. In October 2003 the talks culminated in federal conservative leaders Peter MacKay and Stephen Harper agreeing to a merger in principle between the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance to form a new Conservative Party of Canada.
Orchard unsuccessfully attempted to prevent the merger. In a high-profile news conference in early November he suggested that the new Conservative Party of Canada was "an abomination, sired in betrayal and born out of deception." He urged PC Party members to vote "no" on any referendum and also encouraged "loyal members" to express their frustrations with Peter MacKay. Orchard argued that his efforts were not based on self-promotion but rather on preserving one of Canada's founding parties and preventing a take-over over of the moderate values and membership of the PCs by the neo-conservative values of the Alliance membership.
Like many other Tories, Orchard was convinced that a merger with an "upstart prairie populist protest movement" was unnecessary. Orchard argued that before the merger was announced, the Canadian Alliance and its leader Stephen Harper, were highly unpopular and a moment was fast approaching for the PCs to reemerge as a national alternative to the governing Liberals. Orchard suggested that MacKay's "traitorous" actions put the above scenario in jeopardy. Some other notable Tories such as Joe Clark, Flora Macdonald, Brian Peckford and Sinclair Stevens also opposed the merger.
In a last-ditch attempt to stop the merger, Orchard went to court, seeking an injunction against the merger vote. The case was thrown out of court on the grounds that a merger through a "national convention" did not violate the PC Party constitution. The merger was ratified successfully by members of the Canadian Alliance in a one-member-one-vote process on December 5. The PC Party opted for a "national convention" in which delegates were selected in ridings and then attended local provincial urban centres in which they voted for or against the merger.
Orchard described the process as fraudulent and undemocratic as the "national convention" delegates never actually voted together in any fixed location. The "national convention" produced a result in which 90.5% of the Progressive Conservative Party membership voted in favour of the merger.
A lost battle
Many analysts have suggested that Orchard's battle to preserve the PC Party may have been vigourous but ultimately pointless. By the time the agreement in principle was formalized in October, the fate of the PC Party may have been practically sealed. Orchard himself had commented as early as September that the party's preparations for a widely expected 2004 federal election were in disarray. Since becoming leader, MacKay and the party's ruling council had done little to facilitate election readiness and preparation which may have been an early signal of MacKay's intentions to not run a full slate of 308 PC candidates in the expected election.
MacKay never elaborated on what would happen if he had lost a vote to merge the parties, but it surely would have resulted in MacKay's resignation as national leader and a fractious public split would have likely enveloped members in the 15-member PC Parliamentary Caucus and the 30-member official opposition PC Senate Caucus. With an election expected for that Spring, the PC Party would have been in a terribly poor position for a campaign based on rejuventating their former status as a national alternative to the governing Liberals. The merger was almost a "fait accompli" the moment MacKay attended a press conference on October 16 to announce the initiative with Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper.
Orchard also faced criticisms from some opponents and journalists in regards to his motivations to preserve the Progressive Conservative political name brand. Some critics suggested that he was really attempting to undermine Peter MacKay's merger stance in order to force a resignation and prompt another leadership race. The party's pro-merger Blue Tory wing would likely have been alienated if such a situation had occurred and this would have left the PCs even more weakened and susceptible to a takeover by Orchard and his left-leaning supporters.
At first, Orchard refused to join or work with the new party. In February 2004, he was asked to take over the leadership of the struggling Canadian Action Party after the resignation of its leader, Paul Hellyer, but Orchard respectfully declined. There have been rumours that Orchard is in discussions over a future Saskatchewan rural riding candidacy for the Saskatchewan Party and Orchard's name is frequently touted as a possible future leadership contender for the Green Party of Canada.
Shortly before the Conservative Party's March 2005 policy convention, Orchard had his membership revoked by the party and was denied access to the event. "The council decided that it was in the interests of the party that they didn't want him to be a member of the party any longer," said Ian Brodie, the executive director of the Conservative Party.
Orchard continues to write for major newspapers, presents lectures across Canada's Universities on foreign policy and environmental issues, and continues working in the organic farming business.