The StarPhoenix, Saturday, January 05, 2008
By James Wood
REGINA - In a move with major repercussions on both
federal and provincial politics in Saskatchewan, federal
Liberal Leader Stephane Dion has appointed NDP MLA Joan
Beatty as his party's candidate in
Beatty will run in the March 17 byelection in the
sprawling northern riding and her departure from the
legislature, less than two months after being
re-elected, will force a provincial byelection in her
The bypassing of the nomination process also appears
to sideswipe David Orchard - the one-time anti-free
trade activist and one of Dion's most prominent
Saskatchewan supporters in his 2006 leadership campaign
- who was campaigning for the nomination in the riding.
Beatty, who in 2003 became the first aboriginal woman
elected to the provincial legislature and appointed to
cabinet, acknowledged Friday she likely would have
stayed with the provincial NDP if it had been re-elected
as the government in the Nov. 7 election.
She said she decided to jump ship because she can
have more of an impact in a party that could potentially
soon form government federally rather than sitting in
"I respect the people that I have worked with within
the NDP government and the NDP party and maybe there are
others that don't understand why I'm doing this but I
hope that down the road they will see why I've done
this. I think my priority has always been the people
first and secondly, party loyalty," she said in a
telephone interview from Prince Albert.
The federal riding was vacated last September by the
resignation of Liberal MP Gary Merasty.
Last month, Orchard's camp was up in arms over the
prospect of Dion appointing Beatty, alleging it was done
at the behest of Saskatchewan Liberal kingpin Ralph
Goodale, the Wascana MP and former finance minister.
But Senator David Smith, co-chair of the Liberal
campaign, said the appointment was made based on
Beatty's merits and Dion's commitment to have one-third
female candidates, not to block Orchard.
Dion and Orchard had spoken prior to the
announcement, said Smith, but he was not privy to the
substance of the conversation.
"I have positive feelings about Mr. Orchard . . .
There's certainly nothing negative about him whatsoever
but it was just the combination of circumstances," he
Orchard, who twice ran for the leadership of the
defunct federal Progressive Conservative party, did not
return phone messages Friday. In the last PC leadership
race in 2003, Orchard threw his support to Peter MacKay
based on an agreement that there would be no merger with
the Canadian Alliance. MacKay then entered talks with
Alliance leader Stephen Harper that led to the merger
and formation of the Conservative party.
Smith downplayed the significance of both Beatty's
switch of parties and the short-circuiting of the
"Political parties and churches are both in the same
category. If you don't take converts you've got a bit of
a problem," said Smith, who noted that former Ontario
NDP premier, and Liberal leadership candidate, Bob Rae
will be running in a Toronto byelection at the same time
"With regard to the appointment procedure, sure,
sometimes you just have to do this,"
Beatty's defection may not hurt her chances in the
riding. In 2000, MP Rick Laliberte was re-elected as a
Liberal after crossing the floor from the NDP.
Beatty took the largest percentage of the vote of any
NDP candidate in the provincial election that saw the
party reduced to 20 seats.
A former journalist, she had served as culture, youth
and recreation minister and northern affairs minister in
Lorne Calvert's government.
A provincial byelection must be held within six
months of Beatty's resignation of her legislature seat.
Calvert said he wished Beatty well but that she is
making a mistake by jumping ship. It's questionable that
Beatty can win the federal seat, especially given the
However, the Opposition leader said he didn't think
her departure would hurt his party either in Cumberland
or the province.
"We have a very strong presence in that constituency.
I know there are a number of people already looking at
that nomination," Calvert said in a telephone interview.
"I think this reflects more on Joan's position than
the party's," he added.
But the Saskatchewan Party was quick to make hay over
Beatty's move, with the government caucus issuing a
press release saying the NDP should pay for the
provincial byelection given Beatty's hasty departure.
Premier Brad Wall said the situation was
disappointing for the local constituents and at the
least raises a number of questions
"Did the NDP know this was a possibility? Did the
local campaign team know? . . . Did Mr. Calvert know?
And if they did, they just went ahead with it anyway
maybe because she was the best chance to win the
riding?" he said.
Beatty said she was approached federally only after
she had committed to run provincially. She said she told
Calvert during the provincial election campaign that she
was considering running federally.
Calvert said a provincial byelection should be called
as quickly as possible so an MLA can be in place by the
time of the spring sitting of the legislature in March.
Wall appeared to throw cold water over the idea of a
quick byelection, however, ruling out a byelection
during the federal byelection campaign.
The Cumberland constituency has been an NDP
stronghold for some time. Wall acknowledged it's an area
that has been a political challenge for his party but
said the recent circumstance and his party's status in
government may make voters give the Sask. Party a second
The federal Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River
byelection, meanwhile, definitely has the potential to
In 2006, Merasty beat incumbent Conservative MP
Jeremy Harrison by a scant 67 votes. In 2004, Harrison
knocked off Laliberte, who was running as an independent
after a falling-out with the Liberals. Ironically,
Harrison was elected as a Sask. Party MLA in November.
The Conservatives have nominated RCMP officer Rob
Clarke, a member of the Muskeg Lake First Nation, as
their candidate in the riding. The NDP have yet to
nominate a candidate.
The byelection could be upended by a possible general
election, if the minority Conservatives are defeated in
the House of Commons on a confidence vote.