"David Orchard's Dangerous Game"

An opinion piece for the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, October 13 1999, p. A14
[Also see Clarification, K-W Record, October 20 1999, p. A10]
by Jeffrey Shallit


Last week, I heard a rising political leader demonize foreigners, deny
mass murder, and make excuses for a tyrant wanted for war crimes.

No, it wasn't Jorg Haider, the far-right leader of Austria's Freedom
Party, whose recent election gains raise the spectre of fascism.  It
was Saskatchewan farmer David Orchard, who finished second to Joe Clark
in the Tory leadership race in 1998.  The foreigners Orchard demonized
were Americans.  The mass murder he denied took place in Kosovo.  And
the tyrant whose war crimes he excused was Serbian leader Slobodan

Orchard is better known for his opposition to free trade, but he is
also a prominent opponent of NATO's air war in the former Yugoslavia.
Speaking October 6 at the University of Waterloo, Orchard delivered a
stinging rebuke of the air strikes and Canada's support for them.
He claimed the Serbians were totally innocent victims of American
imperialism, and the goal of the air war was to open Yugoslavia to
American markets.

It's certainly possible for people of good will to be opposed to NATO's
tactics.  It's certainly true, as Orchard said, that the rebel Kosovo
Liberation Army has engaged in terrorism.   But how does this excuse
the murder and deportation of innocent civilians?  I asked Orchard
point-blank if he thought Milosevic had any culpability in these human
rights violations, and he denied it.

What can account for this new, virulent strain of Holocaust denial?
The surprising answer can be found in Orchard's book, _The Fight for
Canada_, which purports to be a history of Canada-US relations.  In
Orchard's comic book-style account, Canadians are depicted as uniformly
brave, trustworthy, and stalwart, while Americans are all cowardly,
greedy, and conniving.  This sort of populist history has a great
appeal in Canada, where anti-Americanism is a civil religion that is
indoctrinated from cradle to grave.  But is it really based in fact, or
on the politics of resentment?

In his book's revealing preface, Orchard describes the origin of his
views:  "Like most farm children, I began operating machinery at an
early age.  I wondered why the identification plates on the machinery
mostly bore the names of faraway places like Wisconsin, USA.  Couldn't
Canadians build tractors, engines, and combines?"

Orchard may have found it puzzling, but the answer is simple.
Canadians don't build "tractors, engines, and combines" because it's
not in their economic self-interest to do so.  It has been known for
two hundred years that countries are economically better off when they
specialize; this is known as Ricardo's theory of comparative

Comparative advantage states if a country is *relatively* better at
making furniture than tractors, then it is wiser to put resources into
making furniture, and export the furniture to buy tractors.  This is
Economics 101, known to any student at my university.  But Orchard
doesn't seem to know it.  In fact, when I challenged him, Orchard
couldn't even state what the theory says.  Apparently he would rather
feed xenophobic sentiment than master basic economic principles.

Ultimately, Orchard's one-sided portrayal of the situation in the
former Yugoslavia is based less on dispassionate analysis and more on
resentment against the US.  Like many demagogues, Orchard knows that
the most reliable way to rouse a populace is to raise the spectre of
the demon outsider.  "Americans have attempted to conquer our land and
our spirit, using war, trade sanctions, and political interventions of
all kinds," reads the blurb on the jacket of Orchard's book.

Nationalism is sometimes a defensible sin.  But when it leads politicians
to turn a blind eye to Milosevic's deportation and killing of thousands
of innocent civilians in Kosovo, it becomes indefensible.  David
Orchard is playing a dangerous game.

[Jeffrey Shallit is Associate Professor of Computer Science at
the University of Waterloo. ]