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The Globe and Mail, Friday, January 11, 2008

Liberals at odds over candidate
Dion is urged to allow open nomination in riding where he picked the contender

by Jane Taber, Senior political writer; with a report from The Canadian Press

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion's decision to appoint an aboriginal woman candidate to a northern Saskatchewan riding is provoking battles both inside and outside the party.

Internally, the situation is being described as "ugly" by one senior Liberal, who says there have been shouting matches among strategists and MPs over the appointment of former NDP Saskatchewan MLA and cabinet minister Joan Beatty.

Publicly, aboriginal leaders from Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill, where a by-election will be held on March 17, are calling on Mr. Dion to overturn his decision and allow an open nomination.

They have organized an emergency membership meeting for tomorrow night in Prince Albert, Sask. However, a Liberal Party spokeswoman said yesterday that Mr. Dion's decision is "final."

At the centre of this is former Liberal cabinet minister Ralph Goodale, the only Grit MP from the province, and David Orchard, Saskatchewan farmer and anti-free-trade activist, who is credited with helping Mr. Dion win the 2006 leadership after he delivered more than 100 delegates. Mr. Orchard had been campaigning for the nomination.

Some Liberals say, both privately and publicly, that Mr. Goodale misjudged the situation and persuaded Mr. Dion to appoint Ms. Beatty, denying Mr. Orchard a seat.

"I will not call Ralph Goodale a liar. I will say that he has trouble stating the facts of the matter from time to time," says former Métis leader Jim Durocher. "He is not telling the leader the facts. The facts of the matter is that people ... cherish [their democratic right]."

Mr. Goodale is not commenting.

Mr. Orchard said yesterday that he would never have campaigned if he had known Mr. Dion would appoint a candidate. Mr. Goodale has said that Mr. Orchard knew that Mr. Dion might appoint a woman.

"Mr. Goodale's statement is completely and utterly false," Mr. Orchard said.

Earlier this week, Mr. Orchard met in Ottawa with Mr. Dion where it was made clear that the leader won't reverse his decision but wants to give Mr. Orchard a role, the senior Liberal says.

But his supporters, many of whom are aboriginal leaders, are not giving up. Mr. Durocher says Liberals in the riding feel betrayed. He says that this riding is one thing that aboriginal people in the North can control. It angers him, he says, that Central Canadians think they know what works in northern Saskatchewan.

Said Joe Durocher, a businessman and an Orchard supporter: "I don't know where Stéphane gets his information from. The only understanding that I had and that we worked hard toward this end is that it was going to be a democratic process." Mr. Dion only recently announced he was appointing Ms. Beatty, who was re-elected in the Nov. 7 provincial election. Liberal MP Gary Merasty resigned in the summer.

Some had interpreted Ms. Beatty's decision to run provincially as a sign that she was not interested in an appointment. As well, Mr. Dion in October effectively introduced Mr. Orchard and consultant John Dorion as contenders for the nomination.

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