The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon), Thursday, December 20, 2007
David Orchard, Dion's dilemma
by Randy Burton
After three federal leadership races, you would think
the federal political structure would begin to get the
When you sign on with David Orchard, you're not
forming a partnership with a guy who is prepared to lie
down and be run over if the leader thinks it advisable.
What you get is a practised grassroots politician
with a flair for organization. You also get a committed
activist who expects to be treated with some respect for
his abilities. It sounds simple enough, but for some
reason, this equation does not seem to compute easily in
The scene now unfolding in Liberal circles bears all
the hallmarks of a movie Orchard has seen before. The
script goes something like this:
Ambitious politician seeking his party's leadership
sees an opportunity for a come-from-behind victory by
running a low-cost, network-heavy campaign. In order to
succeed, he enlists the help of a nationally known
political maverick long on principles but short on
compromise. After achieving an unlikely victory with the
maverick's help, the candidate turns his back on his
unlikely helpmate, freezing him out of the inner circle
he yearns for.
If this sounds familiar it should. Orchard played the
maverick's role opposite Peter MacKay in the old
Progressive Conservative party and he seems to be
repeating the role in Stephane Dion's Liberal party.
This is what's happening.
For the past six weeks, Orchard has been campaigning
for the Liberal nomination in the northern Saskatchewan
riding of Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River, which was
vacated by former Liberal MP Gary Merasty last
September. Unless a general election is called first,
Prime Minister Stephen Harper will call a byelection for
Churchill River within the next couple of months.
With his typical work ethic, Orchard has already sold
hundreds of Liberal memberships at $25 apiece, no small
feat in the poorest federal riding in the province.
However, it may all be for naught.
Anxious to increase the number of women running for
the Liberals in the next federal election, Dion is
considering appointing former provincial NDP cabinet
minister Joan Beatty to be the party's candidate in the
So far, she hasn't said anything about this one way
or the other beyond the fact that both the NDP and the
Liberals want her as a candidate. I suppose it would be
hopelessly old-fashioned to suggest she has an
obligation to the voters who just re-elected her to the
legislature, but that's another issue.
However, it's pretty clear that unless she's
appointed, she doesn't have a snowball's chance in
Phoenix of becoming the Liberal candidate in northern
That's not to say Orchard would be the obvious winner
of a contested nomination, given that he would first
have to get by local consultant and educator John Dorion.
But there is no doubt he would have an insurmountable
head start over Beatty should she choose to run.
What's particularly interesting about this is that
the only reason Beatty is a consideration is because
Saskatchewan Liberal heavyweight Ralph Goodale does not
want Orchard as a candidate. He is also said to have
made this crystal clear to Liberal campaign co-chair
David Smith, a senator from Toronto.
Exactly why remains a mystery.
It may be that Goodale doesn't want the Liberal brand
to be confused with Orchards' long-standing concerns
about free trade and what that might do to the Liberals'
chances with the business community. It may be that
Orchard represents something of a wild card in terms of
public messaging. Not all of his issues are necessarily
Liberal issues, and he is unlikely to express his views
in Goodale's trademark opaque manner. It may also be
that Goodale doesn't want to be supplanted as the
province's most influential Liberal should Orchard wind
up getting elected to Parliament.
Whatever the reason, this turn of events puts Dion in
a bit of a pickle, given that neither of his options are
particularly attractive. He can accede to the demands of
his parliamentary House leader and short-circuit
Orchard's run for the nomination. But to do so would be
to poke a stick in the eye of the man who played a
crucial role in his successful run for the leadership
last year. It's clear that without the 150 delegates
Orchard delivered, Dion could not have won.
If he cared about that, Dion would stay strictly out
of the nomination and let the chips fall where they may.
But if he does, he runs the risk of alienating Goodale,
the only Liberal MP in Saskatchewan who actually has a
The ultimate choice he makes will say a lot about
whether Dion represents generational change in the
Liberals or merely new management.