Canadian Press, Friday, January, 4, 2008
Rift opens in Liberal party over appointment of NDP MLA to run in
by Joan Bryden
OTTAWA - Irate supporters of David Orchard are
warning that Liberals will lose a coming byelection in
northern Saskatchewan now that Leader Stephane Dion has
chosen to appoint an NDP defector as the party's
And even though Dion's chosen candidate, Joan Beatty,
is an aboriginal woman, some native leaders are
suggesting it's racist to bypass the democratic
nomination contest in the heavily aboriginal riding.
"There is an Indian Affairs mindset and this is it to
the core, the old Indian agent mentality we all know too
much about," Metis leader Jim Durocher says in an angry
letter to Dion, obtained by The Canadian Press.
"The idea that 'we' know better than 'you' the
people, what is good for you."
Durocher says his people "know in their bones about
colonialism" and adds: "The central point is that the
people of this riding resent, and I personally resent
mightily, the attitude of certain southerners that they
know what's best for our riding."
Orchard, an anti-free-trade activist and two-time
contender for the Progressive Conservative leadership,
was instrumental in helping Dion stage a
come-from-behind victory in the 2006 Liberal leadership
contest. In an interview Friday, Durocher estimated that
Orchard's organization delivered at least 150 delegates
for Dion, without which he likely couldn't have won.
Dion, who initially appeared to give his blessing to
Orchard seeking the nomination in
Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River, appointed former
Saskatchewan cabinet minister Beatty late Thursday. The
byelection in the riding will be held March 17.
Durocher said he's disappointed that Dion has shafted
Orchard after all the Saskatchewan farmer did to help
him in the leadership race. "It's not very principled.
It's not very fair."
Orchard's supporters sent out e-mail messages Friday
urging Liberals to pressure Dion to change his mind.
Letters from Durocher and another native supporter, sent
last month in bid to forestall Beatty's appointment,
were also being circulated.
Joseph Iron writes that Orchard is popular and
well-known among aboriginal voters, having joined a 1992
native blockade in the riding to prevent clear-cutting
of a forest. As a result, he says native voters have
been joining the Liberal party in droves to support
Orchard's bid to become the candidate in Desnethe.
"If they do this (appoint Beatty) and hurt Dave, I
won't bother with the Liberals any more. I will go with
the NDP and my family too," Iron writes. "I think the
chiefs will have something to say about this too. And
that is without even talking about democracy."
Durocher, a two-time former Liberal candidate
himself, predicts the Liberals will lose Desnethe with
"Let me tell you something bluntly," he says in his
letter to Dion. "If you impose Joan Beatty, the Liberals
will lose this riding."
Moreover, he says he and many other aboriginals in
the riding won't vote Liberal.
"If this travesty occurs in Desnethe, if you sir lose
sight of the basic proposition that the people of the
north, be they my people, white or First Nation, have
the basic right to select their own candidate, unless
some emergency, I personally will not vote Liberal ... I
suspect many others will in fact vote Conservative or
In an e-mail urging Orchard supporters to exert
public pressure on Dion to change his mind, Rose-Marie
Larsson says a "prominent chief" in the riding has asked
Orchard to tell Dion that "as far as I am concerned, if
he makes an appointment, our people won't even bother to
show up to vote.
"He may as well hand the riding to the Tories."
Gary Merasty won the riding for the Liberals in 2006
by a mere 67 votes over his Tory competitor. Merasty
resigned abruptly last summer.
David Smith, co-chairman of the national Liberal
campaign, on Friday defended Dion's decision to appoint
Beatty. He noted that Dion has made it a priority to get
more women involved in politics, and said Beatty - the
first aboriginal woman to be elected to the Saskatchewan
legislature - is exactly the type of candidate the
"Sometimes politics and leadership are all about
making tough decisions, and Stephane decided that this
was the right decision so he made it," Smith said in a
telephone interview from Toronto.
"We're prepared to bite the bullet to demonstrate
that our commitment to increasing our number of women
candidates - particularly well-qualified ones - is very
Dion was not available for comment.
As a provincial politician, Beatty represented the
large northern Saskatchewan constituency of Cumberland,
which falls within the boundaries of the federal riding.
Beatty, who was a CBC journalist before entering
politics, was first elected to the provincial
legislature in 2003 and served as minister of culture,
youth and recreation in the NDP government. She was
re-elected two months ago when the NDP was forced into
Opposition by the Saskatchewan Party.
Beatty said she was approached last summer to run
federally, but kept her name on the provincial ballot
because she was hopeful the NDP would return to power.
When it didn't, Beatty said she decided to pursue a
seat in Ottawa because the Liberals have a shot at
forming government federally.
"That is the one thing that I have found out that you
have to be in government to have say when it comes to
policy or budget decisions or raising issues at that
level," she said in an interview Friday.
"To me that's the key - that is where you are going
to have voice and that is where you are going to have
say in terms of representing the issues of northern
NDP Leader Lorne Calvert figured Beatty will face an
uphill battle winning the seat as a defector.
"I think Joan is making a mistake," Calvert said.
"That said, I wish her well. She remains a friend."
Orchard did not return phone calls to both his home
and office Friday.
Smith said Dion did talk with Orchard before the
Beatty announcement was made, but the senator wasn't
aware of any deals being struck with Orchard. "He may be
frustrated, I just can't speak for him."
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said he will start
looking at dates for a provincial byelection. Provincial
law dictates one must be held within six months of a
seat becoming vacant.
Beatty's departure so soon after the provincial
election raises a lot of concerns, Wall said.
"It's true that circumstances change. MLAs mid-term
move on or there can be illnesses, there are all manner
of reasons for potential changes," Wall said.
"But we're just over a month from when the returns
came in. It's hard to fathom that this wasn't a
possibility known to others long before the decision she
made here in the new year."