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The StarPhoenix on-line, Sunday, January 13, 2008

Liberal Party members gather to protest Beatty appointment

By Darren Bernhardt, TheStarPhoenix.com

PRINCE ALBERT - Ralph Goodale may be one of the most respected politicians in Ottawa, but in his home province and to several members of his Liberal Party on Saturday, he was about as popular as a kick in the groin.

As a matter of fact, the latter was more popular: it was mentioned more than once as a gift that should be bestowed on Goodale, the Regina-Wascana MP and former minister of finance for Canada.

A fired-up group of nearly 200 people - mayors, residents, First Nations chiefs, Metis leaders - gathered at the Prince Albert Inn throughout the day for an emergency membership meeting regarding the recent upheaval in the federal riding of Desnethe-Missinippi-Chruchill River. Last week, Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion appointed provincial NDP defector Joan Beatty as candidate for a March 17 byelection in the riding. Goodale has been accused by critics of the appointment of courting and recommending Beatty, the first aboriginal woman appointed to provincial cabinet.

By foisting a candidate upon them, the Liberal Party has insulted northern Saskatchewan voters, said Jim Durocher, a former federal and provincial Liberal candidate and past-president of the Metis Association of Saskatchewan. At the meeting, the federal Liberal Party was called paternalistic, colonialist, dictators and, as one member stated, "other words we can't say in public."

"It's back to the old Indian Affairs system: 'We know what's good for you,' " said Chief Richard Fiddler of Waterhen First Nation.

"The north has been for decades on the receiving end of colonial attitudes and unforgivable arrogance," said Durocher, who emceed the meeting with Chief Marcel Head of Shoal Lake First Nation. "Some people are talking about going to Regina to visit Ralph Goodale and kick him in the . . . somewhere."

"Don't kick him in the nuts, he doesn't have any," someone offered, to which another attendee suggested Goodale be taken behind a woodshed and given a drubbing.

The room at the Inn was so full that organizers delayed the start of the meeting to push back partition walls and spread the gathering across three banquet rooms.

"Isn't it amazing, the other day when Bob Rae and Goodale and that hockey player guy (Ken Dryden) said it's only a handful of people concerned about this. Well, they had about nine people (at their meeting last week in La Ronge) and look at us," Durocher said, igniting a round of applause.

The objective was to set up a riding association executive and establish a nomination date to "democratically" elect a Liberal candidate for the byelection.

After being advised that advance notice must be given to members in order to create an executive, the group formed an interim committee to work toward that goal. The committee is also tasked with setting a nomination date and meeting with Beatty to request her resignation and invite her to be part of the nomination process.

"We have to be fair here," said Durocher. "She may have been used in this situation by the Liberal Party. Maybe she never fully understood the seriousness of it."

Eileen Gelowitz of Big River First Nation expressed her support for Joan but not the appointment.

"If she ran for the nomination, in a democratic process, I would be the first one out there to support her," Gelowitz said.

Two candidates, John Dorion and David Orchard, were campaigning in anticipation of the Liberal nomination long before Beatty came along. Dion has slapped them in the face, said Durocher.

"Dion just handed this riding to the conservatives," added Fiddler, noting Gary Merasty, the Liberal incumbent who stepped down in September, forcing the byelection, won the seat by 67 votes - and that was with the Liberal supporters going all-out to vote for him.

Circumventing the democratic process has alienated many of those people, who intend to boycott the byelection or vote for another party if Beatty is the candidate, he added.

Several in attendance support David Orchard, who has stood with First Nations people at blockades to protect natural resources. Orchard also helped Dion win a hotly contested leadership convention last fall, which is why Beatty's appointment has shocked so many. A candidate at the convention himself, Orchard realized he wasn't going to win and passed his votes to Dion.

"I'm encouraged by what the people are doing here. I commend them for taking the steps to reinstate democracy," he said in an interview at Saturday's meeting.

Neither Beatty not anyone from Dion's executive attended the meeting, though they had been told about it. But as Durocher repeatedly emphasized, "this meeting is not about Joan Beatty. This meeting is not about David Orchard. This meeting is about the process that was denied our people.

"There's not a lot of places in Canada where our people have the opportunity for some control. We're not going to let that go," Durocher added. "The people sitting in Ottawa need to understand that. The people sitting in Regina need to know that. Those gurus in government need to know that."

Then he took another shot at Goodale, adding, "That chubby little guy in Regina who thinks he knows everything needs to know that we are going to take control."

Alex Maurice, mayor of Beauval, said the Beatty appointment belittles all women, suggesting they can't beat the men on their own merits.

Goodale has said Beatty's name was put forward by the so-called Green Light Committee, a group of Liberal members who help organize the party for upcoming elections. According to Doug Richardson, a Saskatoon lawyer and GLC member, every province has one. But he categorically denied Goodale's claim the Saskatchewan GLC supported any single candidate.

A high-ranking member of the party who once served as former Prime Minister John Turner's chief of staff, Richardson backs Orchard. He told select people so as they entered the meeting.

The interim committee will also be seeking representation on the GLC and will be forwarding Dion a petition passed around Saturday demanding he reverse the Beatty appointment.

dbernhardt@sp.canwest.com


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