The StarPhoenix, Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Dion defaults on debt to Orchard
by Randy Burton
Say what you will about Brian Mulroney, he knew how
One of his many expressions was "ya dance with the
one what brung ya," a reference to the importance of
loyalty in politics.
No one should know that better than Saskatchewan
Liberals. Theirs is a history rife with deposed leaders
and backroom deals that put personal gain above party
loyalty. As a result, they remain mired in the political
cellar, living at 10 per cent in the provincial polls
and unable to regain much of a foothold on the federal
It's perfectly in keeping with that history for
federal leader Stephane Dion to appoint former
provincial NDP cabinet minister Joan Beatty to become
the Liberal candidate in Desnethe-Missinnippi-Churchill
He's following another unwritten rule of politics
that suggests the ends justifies the means. However,
it's by no means clear that this gamble will pay off.
On paper, the idea of an appointment is eminently
defensible as a principled gesture aimed at getting
qualified women into Parliament. In this case, Beatty
has the additional advantage of having First Nations
heritage, so the Liberals can also claim they're
standing up for minorities in the democratic process.
In practice however, going over the heads of local
party members is extremely divisive and undermines the
party's strength at the grassroots level, where they
need it most.
If Beatty can actually win the March 17 byelection to
replace former Liberal MP Gary Merasty, then the
Liberals can claim they were right to "bite the bullet,"
as Senator David Smith calls it.
If she fails, Dion will not only have reduced his
seat count, but he will have alienated one of his most
important supporters for nothing. Free trade critic and
former Tory leadership candidate David Orchard delivered
150 votes to Dion's leadership campaign in 2006, but
apparently that wasn't enough.
He's now in the humiliating position of being shunted
aside for a hand-picked candidate with absolutely no
base of support within the Liberal party. What she
shares with Dion is a disregard for the concept of
Former premier Lorne Calvert plucked her from
obscurity and made her a cabinet minister, even though
she had no visibile qualifications for the job. What's
more, he stuck with her, in spite of the fact she was
regarded as a lacklustre minister.
As for her constituents, she was re-elected as an MLA
just two months ago. You could say she had a contract
with the voters who signed on with her in the
expectation that she would stay for four years. She
didn't last two months.
Her justification is that it's impossible to get
anything done in Opposition, which is an interesting
comment on the value of the role her erstwhile
colleagues are now playing, to say nothing of the entire
federal NDP caucus.
But the real story here is Orchard, who has built a
national base that will follow wherever he chooses to
lead. What does he do next?
He's still not ready to say, but none of his options
are particularly appetizing. He could quit the Liberals
and take his followers somewhere else, but he's running
out of parties. He could play the loyal soldier and run
in some other riding, but his image as a man with
influence over Dion is now badly damaged, which thus
hobbles his electability.
Finally, his supporters across the country could
attempt to convince Dion to change his mind, something
that is happening now. A number of people in the North
are frustrated by the turn of events and talking about
some public show of support for Orchard.
"When all's said and done, I feel it was an unfair
process," says Duane Favel, the mayor of Ile-a-la-Crosse
and an Orchard supporter.
"If they were considering appointing a candidate,
they should have indicated that a lot sooner. We feel
frustrated that this was pulled from underneath him the
way it happened."
More than 500 people have bought Liberal memberships
in the North in order to support either Orchard or his
opponent John Dorion, only to learn they will have no
say in the outcome of the nomination.
And ultimately, this may be the lasting legacy of
this decision. People in the North are going to remember
this appointment long after Joan Beatty is a footnote in
Canadian political history. For proof, you need look no
further than the riding of Saskatoon-Humboldt, where
Jean Chretien appointed Georgette Sheridan as the
Liberal nominee in 1993.
She won that year, but the internal divisions it
created have never fully healed. Sheridan was defeated
by Jim Pankiw in 1997 and the
Reform-Alliance-Conservative metamorphosis has owned the
riding every since.
There's no way to know if the same thing will happen
in the North where the voting demographic is very
different. But we know northern voters prize personal
loyalties every bit as much as the rest of us.
That alone should have given Dion reason for pause.