National Post, January 09, 2008
Dion's Prairie parachutist
by Colby Cosh
At first, we thought it was quite obvious why
Stéphane Dion wanted to appoint Saskatchewan NDP MLA
Joan Beatty as his party's candidate for a spring
by-election: She is clearly one of the deep political
thinkers of our age. When challenged on the decision to
abandon her party and the Cumberland provincial seat she
won two months ago, Ms. Beatty, Saskatchewan's outgoing
Minister of Culture, Youth, and Recreation, attested:
"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
That's right, it turns out cabinet ministers have
more power than opposition critics. How many other
people could have ferreted out such a deep truth from
only eight weeks' experience in opposition?
Of course, for parliamentary government and party
politics to work, someone has to occupy those opposition
benches. Apparently, Joan Beatty doesn't think she's one
of those little people. But has anyone bothered to
inform her that even if she is able to win that March 17
by-election in the federal constituency of
Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River, she will almost
certainly start out all over again in opposition? (Cue
Homer Simpson "D'oh!" sound effect.)
She does have two X chromosomes, and that's what
really counts as far as the federal Liberals are
concerned. David Orchard, the popular agriculture and
protectionism advocate who backed Stephane Dion for the
party leadership and who has been selling Liberal
memberships in the riding, found himself unexpectedly
betrayed by virtue of lacking the correct genetic
apparatus. There is a principle at stake for the party,
insists national campaign co-chairman David Smith.
"We're prepared to bite the bullet," he says, "to
demonstrate that our commitment to increasing our number
of women candidates — particularly well-qualified ones —
is very real."
It's not clear whether Mr. Smith chose his metaphor
with care. In literal terms, "biting the bullet" is what
battlefield patients did during painful surgeries in the
days before anaesthesia. It almost sounds like an
unwitting prediction that the Liberals' razor-thin
margin of incumbency in the riding is doomed, and that
the seat is about to be amputated from their caucus like
a gangrenous limb.
Judging from the response to Mr. Dion's handover of
the riding to Ms. Beatty, that seems like a good guess.
Ms. Beatty has a track record of winning elections in
northern Saskatchewan, thanks in part to her aboriginal
ancestry. But in jerking the rug from under Orchard, Mr.
Dion has attacked another politician with a history of
supporting aboriginal protests and causes. And the
"Ottawa-hath-spoken" flavour of Mr. Dion's decision has
not gone unnoticed. One local Indian leader called it a
"slap in the face" and an act of "tyranny." A Métis
organizer was reminded of "the old Indian agent
mentality ... The idea that 'we' know better than 'you'
the people, what is good for you."
As for the non-aboriginal Saskatchewanians in the
area, particularly the longtime New Democrats, it is
hard to find a reason they wouldn't feel exactly the
same way, or even use the same words.
In fact, we can't improve on them either.