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The StarPhoenix, Saturday, January 05, 2008

Dion anointing Beatty sends wrong message


The federal Liberal party may have a new leader, but it's practising the same old undemocratic, insider-driven politics, as evidenced by Stephane Dion's appointment of Joan Beatty to contest the Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River byelection on March 17.

That Beatty, a former provincial cabinet minister, was re-elected in good faith as a New Democratic Party MLA by constituents in the Cumberland riding less than two months ago appears not to matter a whit either to Dion or to Beatty herself.

In opting to override the democratic right of federal constituents in the Desnethe riding to choose their own representative, Dion not only snubbed loyal Liberals who'd elected Gary Merasty, the MP who resigned in September, but also delivered a slap in the face to a key supporter who'd helped Dion secure the party leadership.

David Orchard, who delivered key leadership convention votes that Dion desperately needed, had been campaigning in the northern Saskatchewan riding for the past eight weeks or so, signing new members and laying the groundwork to secure the Liberal nomination.

While it was no means a given that Orchard would have won a fair fight in the far-flung riding with its sizable aboriginal component, at least he was making the effort to get himself known and sell his candidacy. And others, such as local educator and consultant John Dorion also reportedly were interested in contesting the race.

As Roy Head, who was president of the riding when it was known simply as Churchill River, said in a recent letter to The StarPhoenix: "If the appointment goes ahead without the people in the constituency having any say, it would be a slap in the face ... It would suggest that constituents aren't capable of electing their own representative and that the selection has to be made for them by the Liberal leader."

While Saskatchewan's current sole Liberal MP Ralph Goodale wouldn't comment, news reports have suggested that he instigated Dion to raid the NDP caucus of Beatty, the first First Nations woman to hold a cabinet position in Saskatchewan, because he didn't want Orchard as the party's candidate.

Whether Goodale's distaste for Orchard has to do with the man's anti-free trade activism that might put the Liberal party at odds with corporate Canada or even whether Goodale perceives him as someday posing a threat to his own position as the province's top dog in Grit circles, it appears that Goodale had Dion's ear on this one.

It's too bad that the leader's ears seem deaf to the ugly note being sounded in Saskatchewan with this move. If Dion wanted a female candidate for the riding, he should have looked harder within Liberal ranks or cultivated a suitable candidate, not poached one from a rival camp. If he had any respect for the electoral process or sensitivity to his party's public perception problems involving ethics, Dion would have let this nomination take its due course.

When asked in late December whether Dion had approached her about fleeing the provincial NDP to join the Liberals, Beatty replied:

"At the end of the day, as a northern person, as a First Nations person, no matter where I've gone or worked, it's always to try to make a difference for my community and my people. That's the bottom line for me."

Yet, it's difficult to see how Beatty can justify turning her back within two months on the very people who chose her to make their case for them in Regina, to pursue a federal seat under conditions that are bound to create tensions in the area and undermine the democratic rights of voters both aboriginal and non-aboriginal.

Her appointment by Dion smacks of the kind of insider politics that so turn off Canadians from the electoral process.

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