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The StarPhoenix and Regina Leader-Post, Saturday, January 05, 2008

Appointment exemplifies bad politics

by Murray Mandryk

To be kind, Joan Beatty's tenure as a member of premier Lorne Calvert's NDP cabinet was rather unremarkable.

So why is she suddenly the hottest commodity in Saskatchewan politics, pursued by both the federal NDP and Liberals to be their candidate in the March 17 Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River byelection? Is she so valuable that federal Liberal Leader Stephane Dion legitimately can justify forgoing the usual nomination process to appoint her as his candidate?

And after all outrage the federal Liberals and Dion expressed over their former caucus mate David Emerson abandoning the Grit ship to join Stephen Harper's Conservative government, how do they justify plucking Beatty from the ranks of the Saskatchewan NDP after she was re-elected as an MLA less than two months ago?

Well, there are those (read: Diehard Liberals) who may try to convince you that they really don't need to answer any of the above. After all, Beatty's a northerner, a New Democrat to whom Liberals are reaching out, a First Nations person and a woman. Why wouldn't Dion and the Liberals court her?

Admittedly, it's an appointment that, in this world of political correctness, isn't easy to criticize.

Beatty unquestionably is a popular MLA for her northern riding of Cumberland, who could well win the seat for the Liberals. And it is important not only to have minorities in the Commons but even more important to have candidates who actually reflect the makeup of a riding such as this Northern Saskatchewan constituency, where a majority of voters are First Nation or Metis.

But under the best of circumstances, it's still legitimate to question the bypassing of the nomination process to appoint a candidate. And despite the shroud of political correctness that surrounds Dion's appointment of Beatty, this simply isn't the best of circumstances.

For one thing, a leader is always playing with fire when he anoints a politician from another party, and it's especially dangerous when he appoints someone already sitting in an assembly as a representative of another political party.

While political correctness will prevent Opposition Leader Calvert and other New Democrats from publicly saying what they would otherwise, no party despises turncoats more than the NDP does. Despite their silence, New Democrats will do everything in their power to defeat Beatty, especially since her departure less than two months after being re-elected as a New Democrat is a huge political embarrassment for them.

For another thing, such appointments only work when the candidate being appointed is seen as qualified, talented and experienced enough to offset some of the obvious criticism. Again, political correctness means you won't hear this very much, but it's not all that difficult to find people who view Beatty as a major talent downgrade from the departed Liberal MP Gary Merasty, who was a legitimate First Nations leader long before his entry into mainstream politics. Some even contend that such a downgrade does little to advance the cause of First Nations people in the long run.

But it's why Merasty is leaving and the games being played to stop others from replacing him -- issues actually far removed from Beatty -- that really punctuate what's wrong with this appointment process.

A Michael Ignatieff backer, Merasty's options for advancement in the Liberal party became significantly limited a year ago, when Dion became party leader. So, instead of having a respected First Nations leader who could have clearly stepped into a federal Liberal cabinet, Dion found himself minus one MP.

However, eager to step into void was one-time Conservative leadership hopeful and long-time political gadfly David Orchard, who happened to back Dion's leadership bid. Suffice to say, Orchard's candidacy for the northern federal riding didn't go over big with a long-time Saskatchewan Liberals, among them kingpin Ralph Goodale.

The solution? To appoint a sitting NDP MLA and First Nations woman as the Liberal candidate in the seat.

At best, it appears Beatty got this appointment for the wrong reasons. At worst, it provides a lot of examples of a lot of things wrong in politics.

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