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The Globe and Mail, December 19, 2007

Dion draws ire over proposed by-election candidate

By Campbell Clark

OTTAWA – Stéphane Dion's hope of appointing a provincial NDP politician as the Liberal candidate for an expected federal by-election in Saskatchewan is angering supporters of one of his key leadership organizers, David Orchard.

The battle over who will carry the Liberal banner in a vast northern Saskatchewan riding has developed into a power struggle pitting MP Ralph Goodale, the party's strong man in the province, against Mr. Orchard, the prominent farm activist who twice ran for the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives.

Mr. Orchard has been campaigning heavily for the Liberal nomination in the riding of Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River, but Mr. Dion is seriously considering overriding the nomination race to appoint NDP MLA Joan Beatty as the candidate, Liberal sources said.

However, Ms. Beatty said yesterday that she has not decided whether she will run in the by-election, and even if she does, she hasn't yet chosen between the Liberals and the NDP.

"I've been approached to run federally for the northern riding by both the Liberals and the NDP. I have some decisions I have to make," she said in a telephone interview.

Ms. Beatty, who was culture minister in the NDP government that lost office in the November election, is an aboriginal woman from the vast riding, which covers the northern half of Saskatchewan. And Mr. Dion has committed to fielding a slate of candidates that is at least one-third women.

In addition, Mr. Goodale, the Liberal House Leader and Saskatchewan party chieftain, has vociferously opposed Mr. Orchard's candidacy and pushed for another candidate to be appointed, according to several Liberals familiar with the discussions.

Some say Mr. Goodale's free-market policy leanings clash with the reputation of Mr. Orchard, who campaigned against free trade with the U.S. But other Liberals believe that Mr. Goodale does not want to see Mr. Orchard, who commands a sizable grassroots organization, become a force in Saskatchewan Liberal politics.

Mr. Goodale declined to comment, but a spokesman, Patrick McQuilken, said that Mr. Goodale will support whoever becomes the Liberal candidate in the riding.

Although he is often seen as a political oddball, Mr. Orchard has a network that made him a top-three finisher in two Progressive Conservative leadership campaigns - and king maker in 2003, when Peter MacKay signed a deal with Mr. Orchard pledging no merger with the Canadian Alliance.

For Mr. Dion, appointing Ms. Beatty would mean brushing aside a key powerbroker in his leadership campaign.

Mr. Dion's Saskatchewan leadership campaign was essentially the Orchard machine, and Mr. Orchard's organization also delivered delegates in rural Ontario and Alberta, as well as raising funds for the cash-poor campaign. That played a key role in placing Mr. Dion within striking distance on the first ballot at last December's Liberal leadership convention.

Mr. Orchard's senior organizers say they refuse to believe that Mr. Dion will appoint a candidate.

"It would be a colossal mistake on so many different levels," said Marjaleena Repo, an organizer for Mr. Orchard who also served as Saskatchewan co-chair for Mr. Dion's leadership campaign. "It would be very, very offensive."

"I would be anti-democratic and against every understanding and agreement - being asked to run there, and encouraged to run, and doing his damnedest to do a good job, and then somebody appointed over him? It would be just insane."

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