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The StarPhoenix, Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Northerners plan protest of Liberal appointment

Randy Burton

Disgruntled Liberals in the province's north have organized a meeting for Saturday to protest federal Liberal Leader Stephane Dion's decision to bypass a nomination meeting for an upcoming byelection.

Those involved say the issue has united Metis and First Nations communities in opposition to the appointment of former NDP provincial cabinet minister Joan Beatty as the Liberal candidate in the March 17 vote in the riding of Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River.

The move has pre-empted a nomination meeting that would have seen free trade critic David Orchard facing off against Prince Albert educator John Dorion.

The pair have been campaigning and selling memberships for several months, only to see their efforts short-circuited by Dion's decision last week to appoint Beatty.

This has angered a number of people in the north who see the move as a paternalistic gesture that discounts their democratic right to choose.

Sources say Dion's hand was forced by Saskatchewan Liberal Ralph Goodale, who is dead set against the idea of having Orchard as a Liberal candidate in a winnable riding, in spite of the fact Orchard played a key role in helping Dion win the party's leadership in 2006.

Despite his flair for organization, Orchard is regarded by some in the Liberal hierarchy as a loose cannon whose views on any number of issues might cause problems for the party.

In spite of that, various community and Native leaders say naming Beatty has badly damaged the Liberals' chances in the consituency, which the party won by just 67 votes in the last federal election.

Former Liberal MP Gary Merasty resigned his seat last year and has since taken an executive position with Cameco Corp.

In an interview Tuesday, Bruce Morin, chief of the Big River Band, said he thinks Dion made "a big mistake" by appointing Beatty.

"He's going to lose a lot of votes over this. He won the last time with a slim majority of votes thanks to the efforts of people like us. And now he goes and does this to us.

"This is an insult to the people who live out here. This should have been our choice."

Goodale and Liberal campaign co-chair David Smith have defended the move, saying appointments are sometimes necessary in order to improve gender balance in elections.

Orchard's campaign manager Marjaleena Repo said she expects Orchard to be in the audience of Saturday's meeting, but the issue belongs to the people of the riding.

"The issue is even beyond the candidates. I have this feeling that this is drawing a line in the sand. Or in the forest," she said.

The meeting will be co-chaired by Metis leader Jimmy Durocher, who said he expects most northern community mayors to be in attendance, as well as a number of First Nations chiefs.

"This is one issue that First Nations and Metis speak together on, and they're adamant that not using the democratic process is very offensive to everybody."

Durocher said he also hopes Goodale will be in attendance, since Dion's office has said the decision was taken on Goodale's recommendation.

A spokesperson for Goodale said he has not heard about the gathering and needs more information before making a commitment.

The meeting will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Prince Albert Inn.

Durocher said he expects up to 150 people to attend.

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