National Post, Thursday, January 10, 2008
Dion plays to win with Orchard snub
OTTAWA -Stephane Dion's decision to appoint a former
NDP Cabinet minister as the Liberal candidate in an
upcoming Saskatchewan byelection has provoked a lot of
tosh about "democratic deficits." The fact is candidates
are not chosen by "the people," they are chosen by
riding associations that usually consist of about 50 men
in tweed jackets with elbow patches and 20 women in
Nonetheless, some supporters of David Orchard, the
Saskatchewan farmer and former Progressive Conservative
leadership candidate, have organized an "emergency"
Liberal membership meeting of the
Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River riding to protest
the appointment of Joan Beatty as candidate in the March
byelection. Jimmy Durocher, a past president of the
Metis Association of Saskatchewan and an Orchard backer,
said in a press release he was not prepared to let Mr.
Dion's "Indian Act mentality" go unchallenged.
Mr. Orchard has been campaigning in the riding for
months and, according to campaign manager Marjaleena
Repo, has signed up 500 new members in a constituency
where the association has been dormant. Ms. Repo said
Mr. Orchard was asked to run by Mr. Dion and Ralph
Goodale, the former finance minister whose riding is in
Regina. "The question here is good faith -- good faith
has disappeared," she said. "Maybe Stephane Dion and
Ralph Goodale will realize a serious error has been
At a press conference yesterday, Mr. Dion looked
suitably sheepish when asked about his betrayal of Mr.
Orchard, who endorsed Mr. Dion during the Liberal
leadership contest. "I have a strong regard for David
Orchard and hope we can use his talents and skills in an
optimal way," he said quietly.
Ultimately, this was a business decision made with
calculated ruthlessness by a leader who wants to win the
next election. After the NDP was turfed from office in
the provincial election, Ms. Beatty decided she would
swap the Opposition benches in Regina for those in
Ottawa. Her resume is, on the surface, impressive -- one
of 13 children of Cree parents, she was an award-winning
journalist for the CBC and the first aboriginal woman to
be elected to the Saskatchewan legislature.
In making his decision, Mr. Dion must have weighed
two key factors: Ms. Beatty is a well-qualified,
aboriginal woman (he has committed to ensuring a third
of candidates at the next election are female); and, Mr.
Orchard is a potential loose cannon who might backfire
during a campaign (he has long opposed the North
American Free Trade Agreement, gun control and gay
There is still the potential for Mr. Dion's decision
to explode in his face if the loyalists who back Mr.
Orchard's peculiar brand of conservatism, nationalism
and environmentalism campaign against Ms. Beatty and
allow the Conservatives to sneak back in (Liberal Gary
Merasty won by 67 votes from the Tory incumbent Jeremy
Harrison in 2006).
But campaign managers are flint-hearted people who
are paid to win and operate by Disraeli's maxim that in
politics, nothing is contemptible. Mr. Dion's advisors
have clearly calculated that Ms. Beatty can win the seat
and are prepared to weather any storm that blows up in
Any squalls will likely be subdued because all
parties reserve the right to pick what they consider a
winning team. Just as the Liberals made surprisingly
little of the ouster of the Conservative candidate for
Toronto Centre, Mark Warner, beyond noting that Red
Tories do not seem welcome in Stephen Harper's party, so
the Conservatives have not yet made hay with Mr. Dion's
local difficulties in northern Saskatchewan.
This quiet understanding may now extend to the use of
Mr. Orchard as a blunt instrument to beat Defence
Minister Peter MacKay, who famously struck a deal with
the Saskatchewan farmer during the 2003 Progressive
Conservative leadership race. Mr. Orchard pledged his
support for Mr. MacKay in return for an agreement not to
merge with Mr. Harper's Canadian Alliance party, only
for the latter to renege on the deal six months after
becoming PC leader. The incident has been the bane of
Mr. MacKay's life ever since, with Liberals like Scott
Brison taking every opportunity to remind Canadians of
the betrayal. Now that Mr. Dion has proven former
federal minister C.D. Howe's contention that "no side
has a monopoly on sons of bitches," Mr. MacKay may be
able to remove the Orchard millstone.
Mr. Dion and Mr. MacKay must now hope that Mr.
Orchard doesn't find solace in the arms of Jack Layton
and pitch up in Ottawa to haunt them as an NDP MP.