The StarPhoenix, Thursday, January 10, 2008
Northern Liberals fighting mad
Things are going from bad to worse for the Liberals
in the north.
In the space of less than a week, they have somehow
managed to alienate a large number of significant
community representatives that could have helped them
hang on to what should be a winnable riding in
If there's one thing that unites a disparate northern
population, it's the notion that people from outside the
community should feel obliged to tell them what's good
And nothing could do that in a more prominent way
than telling them their voices do not count when it
comes to choosing who they want to represent them in a
federal election. It's safe to say at this point that
when federal leader Stephane Dion decided to appoint
former NDP cabinet minister Joan Beatty to become the
Liberal candidate in the northern riding, he had no idea
he would be provoking such a backlash.
After all, the Liberals have appointed candidates
before to fulfil gender and ethnic parity goals without
arousing much opposition. Dion likely felt this case
would be no different, particularly since he was acting
on the advice of MP Ralph Goodale, his knowledgeable
He couldn't have been more wrong. In the space of a
few days, the appointment issue has gone from being
perceived as mere political paternalism to a scenario
that is being described as the dominant white race
dictating terms to the Native minority.
Jim Durocher, a Metis leader and a former Liberal
candidate in provincial and federal elections, describes
it as just another example of "Indian Act mentality."
"That is one of the only constituencies where
aboriginal people have a big role to play in
Saskatchewan. They're not going to give up that right to
select their own candidate to represent them. They're
going to cause a big problem. They're going to lose that
seat unless Dion at the last moment sees the light and
decides they better not do this," Durocher said.
"If Ralph Goodale is that concerned about having an
aboriginal woman in the caucus, what he should do is
resign his Wascana seat and allow an aboriginal woman to
run there," Durocher said.
Accused of meddling in local affairs, the federal
Liberals' response was to pile on yet more outside
intervention and fly in a planeload of party
heavyweights to La Ronge on Wednesday.
The emergency damage control mission included former
cabinet minister and hockey great Ken Dryden, former
Liberal leadership candidate and NDP premier Bob Rae,
Liberal Senator Bob Peterson and Goodale.
The arrival of such a star-studded cast would
normally be preceded by a flurry of media advisories and
perhaps even newspaper advertising aimed at maximizing
exposure. Such a show of force from the federal party in
the remote outpost of Saskatchewan is almost
unprecedented in connection with what should have been a
relatively minor piece of party business.
Dryden says this "campaign launch" for Beatty has
been on his calendar for four or five days, but local
Liberals didn't hear about it until Wednesday morning,
too late to allow a lot of chiefs or community leaders
One of those was Durocher, who was at his desk at
SaskNative Rentals in Saskatoon when he was told they
were in La Ronge. If his response is any guide, the
mission is receiving a mixed reaction, at best.
"Not one of those people knows anything about the
north," Durocher said. "They're all from Central Canada
and southern Saskatchewan, and that's very offensive."
However, the fact that the Liberals felt it was
necessary to make the trip shows just how high the
stakes are for the Liberals here, not only for Dion, but
for Goodale, too. If the Liberals go on to lose this
seat in the byelection vote March 17, it's going to be
put down to Goodale's intervention with Dion.
Of course, the Liberals are far from the only party
that has had problems with a nomination. Four years ago,
the federal Conservatives decided former premier Grant
Devine would not be allowed to run for a party
nomination in southeast Saskatchewan. He ran as an
Independent but lost to Conservative nominee Ed
Former provincial Conservative Grant Schmidt met the
same fate when he sought the Saskatchewan Party
nomination in Melville and he, too, lost as an
Independent in the provincial election of '03.
The difference in this case is Churchill River is not
necessarily a safe seat for the Liberals, given that
they won it by just 67 votes in the last election with a
stronger candidate than Beatty.
The Liberal hierarchy may not be pleased with the
prospect of David Orchard, who was challenging for the
seat, sitting in their caucus, but the question they
have to ask themselves is whether they would be happier
with a Conservative in that seat.
If the answer to that question is yes, then they're
on the right track.