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Canadian Press, Friday, August 15, 2008

Outspoken activist David Orchard to run for federal Liberals in Saskatchewan

OTTAWA — Once spurned by Liberal Leader Stephane Dion, outspoken activist David Orchard has now been embraced by party rank and file in a northern Saskatchewan riding.

The organic farmer and anti-free trade activist was elected late Thursday to be the Liberal candidate in Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River during the next federal election.

Orchard had hoped to run for the Liberals during a byelection in the predominantly aboriginal riding last March. But Dion short-circuited the democratic nomination process, appointing former NDP provincial cabinet minister Joan Beatty as the party's candidate.

Although Beatty herself is aboriginal, the move enraged some native leaders. They accused Dion of paternalism and even racism, imposing Beatty rather than trusting native residents to choose their own candidate.

Beatty lost the riding, which had narrowly elected a Liberal in the 2006 election, to the Conservatives. Many Liberals blamed Dion's heavy-handed treatment of Orchard, who had been instrumental in securing Dion's come-from-behind leadership victory, for the loss.

Beatty had wanted to run again in the upcoming general election but she got no help from Dion, who chose not to interfere this time in the open nomination contest. She was trounced by Orchard in Thursday's vote.

An insider said Orchard garnered more than twice as many votes as Beatty.

Orchard said Friday that the party had no choice but to "bow to the clearly expressed will of the people in the north to have democracy and fair play."

"Many of the people from the highest reaches of the party told me that they felt they'd made a mistake and they wanted to make it right. If they want to win the riding, I don't think they could've gone any other way," he said in an interview.

Orchard, an organic farmer who twice ran for the leadership of the now-defunct Progressive Conservatives, has long been an outspoken activist on environmental, free-trade, aboriginal and agriculture issues. He doesn't intend to pull his punches now just because he's a candidate.

"I think the essence of a vibrant, national party is you would have to encompass a wide range of views. Probably one of the worst things (is) a monolithic party where everybody stands up and nods at the same time and says the same things," he said.

Moreover, Orchard indicated that he intends to use his activist zeal to shake up the Liberal party.

"I strongly believe that we have to open up the party to the ordinary people, the grassroots, and we have to touch a chord if we're going to be effective as a national party."

In Saskatchewan in particular, Orchard said Liberals are "going to have to do something very different than the way it's been done if we're going to get beyond having a single member from this province."

That may put Orchard at odds with Liberal stalwart Ralph Goodale, the lone Liberal MP in Saskatchewan who has presided over party affairs in the province for decades. Some of Orchard's supporters blamed Goodale for persuading Dion to appoint Beatty in the byelection.

Goodale had no comment Friday. Dion's office said the leader had "a nice chat" with Orchard Friday morning and congratulated him on his nomination victory.

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