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The StarPhoenix and National Post on line, Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Riding must have say on candidate

by Michelle Hugli

There are many reasons to be upset with Stéphane Dion's decision to appoint former NDP MLA Joan Beatty to represent the federal Liberal Party in the March 17 byelection in the Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River riding.

Liberal members being denied a chance to participate in the nomination process, suggestions that senior Saskatchewan Liberal MP Ralph Goodale is opposed to David Orchard representing the party in the riding and having high-ranking Liberals fly in to tell northerners who is best to represent them are some of the reasons people are angry and upset.

But one of the biggest problems with appointing Beatty is that it suggests she couldn't have won the Liberal nomination on her own. Even if that's far from the truth, given that she is a strong candidate with a lot of supporters, that's one of the messages Dion sent when he decided to skip the nomination process and make the appointment himself.

By appointing a strong candidate, based in a large part on her race and gender, Dion has called her abilities into question. If she's such a strong candidate and the best person to represent the Liberals in that riding, why not let the members decide?

Could the concern be that someone else will get nominated and the Liberals will lose an opportunity to have a strong, aboriginal female candidate in that riding, or that they'll have to deal with a party member as candidate who makes them nervous?

In any case, as the leader of the party, Dion has the authority to appoint any candidate he chooses. But many Liberals in the riding have made it abundantly clear that they do not appreciate Dion dictating who represents their riding and want his move overturned.

That happening is highly unlikely. The party leader made his decision with the strong support (or suggestion) of Goodale and we can expect him to stand by that decision regardless of the actions of disgruntled Liberals.

Dion has made it clear that he wants more women to represent the Liberal party across Canada. That's excellent. Beatty is a strong candidate who brings political experience gained in the Saskatchewan legislature, she works very hard and she understands the issues in the riding.

The controversy involving Beatty is as much about her race and gender as it is about the democratic process. In fact, it appears to be more about race and gender, for it has trumped the democratic process in this case.

While being an aboriginal woman can be an asset because you bring a different and much-needed perspective to a job, it can be a hindrance too. People see what you are before they see what you can do. It means you have to work much harder to be treated like others who are not female or aboriginal. It comes with stereotypes and assumptions that you have to constantly overcome.

When you're not a white male in a high position of trust and authority -- or running to achieve that position -- people see what you are first and only then what you can do. All we need to do is to look at the American presidential contest for proof.

When we look at Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, we see a woman and a black man first, their policies as Democrats second.

The same can be said for Beatty in this case. Whether the decision to appoint her is based partly on her gender and race or whether that's being used as a reason to avoid other members from winning the nomination, the fact is much is being said about what she is rather than what she can do. She could do a lot for that riding, and party members deserve to hear her ideas and vote for her based on her skills and abilities.

If she has to campaign for her nomination, we will hear more about what she will do as a Liberal candidate in the riding than what she is, which is all we've heard about.

As a result of her appointment, some Liberal members have indicated they might boycott the byelection. That just doesn't make any sense to me.

As a party member, don't you want your party to succeed and hold as many seats as possible, even if you have internal disagreements to work out? To boycott the byelection or vote for another party sounds like cutting off your nose to spite your face. You only hurt yourself or, in this case, your party.

I'm pleased that Dion wants more women and aboriginal people representing his party. But the best way to do that is to approach high qualified people such as Beatty and strongly encourage them to run for the nomination by members in their riding.

In the end, you really have to let the people decide.

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