David Orchard’s love of Canada is something we can all believe in
by Margret Kopala

Published by the Ottawa Citizen, October 25, 2003

Following two bids for the leadership of the federal Progressive Conservatives and a week of wall-to-wall media coverage in which he railed against the Canadian Alliance/Progressive Conservative unity deal, David Orchard is no better known than he was in 1985 when he founded Citizens Concerned About Free Trade. Scorned as a “tourist” in the PC party, the fourth-generation Saskatchewan farmer’s best-selling book, The Fight for Canada: Four Centuries of Resistance of American Expansionism, reveals instead a man who may be Canada’s last radical tory.

Chronicling Canada’s defence against American invasions through the War of 1812, The Fight for Canada celebrates the heroes who, before and after, faced down powerful U.S. adversaries. “The U.S. failure to take Canada in the War of 1812,” he writes, “left a legacy in Canada of resistance to U.S. aggression and determined the shape into which the nation would develop over the next hundred years.”

The battle scenes are terrific, but the battles around free trade bring Orchard’s research into its own.

Following the War of 1812, he writes, the Americans moved to Plan B, in which bribery helped secure the U.S./Canada Reciprocity Treaty of 1854. By 1862, their Montreal-based consul reported the treaty was “quietly but effectually transforming these five provinces into States of the Union commercially speaking.” Then, in 1866, it was repealed. The trade balance favoured Canada, which didn’t please American business. More significantly, U.S. expansionists felt that by cancelling it, they could force the Canadian colonies to ask, or beg, for entry into the United States.

With the treaty cancelled and the American Civil War ended, Canada’s fractious Parliament braced for the inevitable. Only when its leaders decided to form a coalition did Confederation and a bulwark to American expansionism become possible.

It was in the era of Sir John A. Macdonald’s subsequent National Plan that David Orchard’s family arrived in the West. In the heady days of the first quarter of the 20th century, Canada saw half a continent settled, a great war fought and an empire changed into a commonwealth. Raised on a farm just five kilometres from the Diefenbaker homestead, David acquired his father’s skills as a farmer activist. In the tradition of Charles Taylor’s “Radical Tories,” who also worried about Canada’s relationship with the U.S., Orchard became a conservative patriot sharing with Macdonald a belief in a “nation which would have a separate and autonomous existence in North America … (protected) from the dangers of continentalism …”

Joining the PC party, Orchard ran for the leadership in 1998 to restore Macdonald’s legacy. On his second, recent try, he secured an agreement with leader Peter MacKay to review the 1988 Free Trade Agreement. He played a good tactical game, but with so determined an opponent to free trade, the former prime minister (and free trade’s champion) Brian Mulroney expedited the PC/CA unity negotiations, putting Orchard’s deal with MacKay out of its misery.

Yet, and yet. It’s been 15 years since free-trade legislation passed. Then-Opposition leader John Turner accused the government of buying an election and selling out the country. Was Turner right? David Orchard thinks so. Free trade, he says, with a few pesky exceptions, gives the Americans the benefits of annexation without the headaches.

With echoes of the past swirling around the FTA, it’s naive to dismiss the possibility that U.S. interests belie Canada’s primary resource-based economy, one fully dependent on them for trade and defence. In this respect, David Orchard speaks compellingly to what historian Jack Granatstein this week called a need for Canada to define its national interests.

But it is Red Tory philosopher George Grant who cuts to the heart of the issue. Writing while the boyish David Orchard was still doing chores on his father’s farm, he said that economic integration with the U.S. is inevitable. “The impossibility of conservatism … is the impossibility of Canada. As Canadians we attempted a ridiculous task in trying to build a conservative nation in the age of progress on a continent we share with the most dynamic nation on earth.”

Is David Orchard an anachronism? An impossible dreamer tilting at windmills? Silly him for believing Canada, on her own terms, could be great. Certainly, he is our last radical Tory making one, possibly last, stand. Canada needs him and a task force on the Free Trade Agreement.

Margret Kopala’s column on western perspectives appears here weekly.

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