The StarPhoenix, Friday, January 11, 2008
Beatty's move to join Grits not hard to fathom
by Doug Cuthand
Joan Beatty was elected in November in the Cumberland
constituency while running on the NDP ticket
provincially. Now she has announced that she will run in
the March 17 federal byelection for the Liberals in the
Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River riding.
The reaction has been swift and negative.
The pundits poured scorn on her decision, stating it
was a slap in the face to the constituents who recently
elected her as a NDP member of the provincial
It's not as if this hasn't happened before. Former
NDP cabinet minister and provincial MLA Buckley Belanger
switched from Liberals to NDP and Rick Laliberte served
two terms federally, as an NDP member in 1997 and a
Liberal in 2000.
It doesn't really matter, because Beatty's fate will
be decided by her constituents. History has shown that a
change in party isn't fatal with aboriginal voters. In
the provincial election, Beatty received the largest
percentage of votes among all the NDP candidates. You
can bet that was because of her personal appeal and not
any overwhelming endorsement for the NDP.
It's not unusual for First Nations and aboriginal
people to switch parties. Political issues in Indian
country generally are local, or centre on the
recognition of aboriginal and treaty rights.
Issues that relate to basic services such as clean
water, improved infrastructure and employment often take
centre stage in election campaigns. Issues such as
rights and land claims are very important to aboriginal
people, but may not make a blip on the radar screen in
other constituencies or may be viewed negatively.
The loyalty in Indian country is to the individual
who can deliver. Partisan politics are seen as a vehicle
to make change for your community. Few aboriginal people
are so close to a party that they will support a
candidate based on party affiliation alone.
The federal NDP is much different from its provincial
counterpart in Saskatchewan.
Federally, the NDP is seen as the flaky left that
will never have to live up to its political promises.
The jump from the provincial NDP to the federal Liberals
isn't much of a leap. Provincially, the NDP has decades
of experience with running competent governments. In the
past 60 years it has been in power two-thirds of the
time. The NDP is Saskatchewan's natural governing party,
as the Liberals have been at the federal level.
History shows that in Saskatchewan, parties are
likely to spend two terms in Opposition. The Thatcher
and Devine governments both were two-term governments.
Barring a scandal or political disaster, it's quite
likely that the Brad Wall government, too, will serve
two terms. This is not a welcome prospect for a sitting
Beatty was facing a bleak future of political
purgatory on the opposition benches, playing legislative
parlour games and not being in any position to make
meaningful change for her constituents. It's not a
welcome way to spend one's political career.
The second issue swarming around Beatty is her
unilateral appointment by Liberal Leader Stephane Dion.
Metis activist John Dorion and David Orchard, a Dion
supporter during the leadership race, both were
campaigning for the Liberal nomination until the rug was
pulled out from under them.
This has raised questions about how welcome Orchard
really was in the Liberal party. If he wants to run in
another constituency, the pickings are pretty slim. The
Conservatives own the rest of the constituencies in
Saskatchewan, with the exception of the seat held by
This is the second time Orchard has been stabbed in
the back politically. Previously he threw his support
behind Peter MacKay for the leadership of the
Conservative Party, providing that MacKay promised not
to join forces with the Canadian Alliance. MacKay
reneged on the deal and the rest is history.
This is a controversial decision by Dion, who has
stated he wants one-third of the Liberal candidates to
be women. It's a noble principle, but forcing it has the
potential to backfire.
So, what are Beatty's chances of securing a federal
seat? If the dissatisfied Liberals vote with their feet
or if the NDP or Conservatives run a popular candidate,
she could be dust. If her supporters come along, she has
a chance. She speaks fluent Cree, is a hard worker and
remains highly popular among northerners.
She could win the byelection just in time to join the
House of Commons and participate in a no-confidence vote
on the budget or some other contentious issue and end up
back on the campaign trail. It would be hard to avoid a
nomination vote twice.