The Globe and Mail, Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Liberals unable to rally supporters in Northern Saskatchewan
by Joe Friesen and Campbell Clark
PRINCE ALBERT, SASK. and OTTAWA — Conservative Rob
Clarke stormed to an upset victory in Northern
Saskatchewan thanks to a strong, grassroots organization
and abysmal voter turnout in traditional Liberal
strongholds, party officials said yesterday.
Mr. Clarke, an RCMP sergeant who was on unpaid leave
during the campaign, will now have to resign from the
police force in order to take his seat in the House of
Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, who played
an active role in Mr. Clarke's campaign, said it was an
impressive ground operation - citing the 40,000
kilometres on Mr. Clarke's vehicle - that got supporters
to the polls and led to the Conservative win.
"He met and worked with everybody he could and got
the vote out," Mr. Ritz said.
Liberal campaign officials were left shaking their
heads Monday night, wondering where their support had
gone. In the 2006 election, they won a narrow victory
with slightly more than 10,000 votes. As turnout
plummeted to 25 per cent in the riding, they took only
3,287 votes, compared with 4,996 for Mr. Clarke. They
blamed their poor numbers partly on complacency among
supporters who thought their candidate, former NDP
cabinet minister Joan Beatty, had the riding sewn up,
and on new election regulations that complicated the
voting process for people on reserves. They say hundreds
of people may have been prevented from voting because
they didn't have photo ID and couldn't present proof of
a civic address.
Poll-by-poll results won't be available until
tomorrow , but organizers with the Liberals and NDP say
the numbers will show Mr. Clarke's base in southern
agricultural communities cast their ballots, while
Liberal and NDP supporters in Indian and Métis
communities stayed home.
The by-election loss was a blow for Liberal Leader
Stéphane Dion, but inside the party, it has also damaged
the reputation of the senior Grit in the province, Ralph
It was Mr. Goodale who pressed Mr. Dion to cut short
a nomination race in the riding to appoint Ms. Beatty.
Mr. Dion overruled his own senior campaign managers,
David Smith and Mark Marissen, to take Mr. Goodale's
That ended a nomination race that was expected to
hand the Liberal banner in the riding to farmer and
trade activist David Orchard, a key supporter of Mr.
Dion in the Liberal leadership race.
Although often dismissed as a political oddball, Mr.
Orchard was one of the few potential candidates with his
own campaign machine capable of organizing a
get-out-the-vote effort that might have won a poorly
Mr. Orchard said yesterday he didn't campaign for the
Liberals this time, nor did he turn his organization
against the party. But he believes the decision to
appoint Ms. Beatty hurt the Liberal cause.
"Many people told me across the riding that they
wanted their right to participate in the democratic
process respected," Mr. Orchard said.
He wouldn't say whether he plans to run against Ms.
Beatty for the nomination next time, but he will to
listen to the people, he said.
"One of the prominent Métis leaders from the north
told me today, 'David, if you abandon us now we'll shoot
you when you step out of your home,' " Mr. Orchard said.
Marcel Head, chief of Shoal Lake First Nation and an
Orchard supporter, said many aboriginal people stayed
home because they weren't encouraged to vote by their
band leadership, many of whom were upset with Mr. Dion
for bypassing the nomination process.
Mr. Goodale was said to be dead-set against Mr.
Orchard because of his political views, particularly his
opposition to free trade. However, many in the party
believe Mr. Goodale did not want to see another
Saskatchewan MP gain influence with Mr. Dion.
Some senior Liberals question whether Mr. Goodale
gave the leader advice that would help the party, or
blocked Mr. Orchard's nomination to preserve his own
"He just didn't want somebody else with a pipeline
direct to the leader," one Liberal close to the
discussions said about the appointment. "If the leader
isn't questioning what the hell happened here, I'd be