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Toronto Star, Saturday, January 05, 2008

Dion accused of snubbing Orchard
Candidate appointment causes controversy

by Susan Delacourt, Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA – Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion appears to have taken a giant political risk in refusing to allow David Orchard, the farmer and political activist, to run for the party in the coming federal by-election in Saskatchewan.

Orchard, who delivered more than 100 delegates to Dion's leadership campaign a year ago, had his heart set on running in Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River – one of four ridings where by-elections are to be held on March 17 to replace departing Liberal MPs.

But on Thursday evening, Dion used his powers of appointment to hand-select Joan Beatty to run for the Liberals in the Saskatchewan seat. Beatty is a former NDP minister in the Saskatchewan government and the first aboriginal woman to be named to cabinet in that province. She won her seat in the provincial election two months ago in which the NDP was defeated.

Orchard wasn't talking to the media yesterday, but his disgruntled supporters were making clear that they saw Dion's move as a snub.

Roy Head, of the Red Earth First Nation and a former riding president in the area, wrote in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix that the Beatty appointment was a "slap in the face" and argued: "We can't let tyranny overstep or overpower democracy and the freedom to elect our representatives."

On the Internet, several Orchard supporters have floated comparisons between Dion and Peter MacKay, now defence minister, who famously made a convention-floor deal with Orchard at the Conservative leadership in 2003 only to renege on the arrangement to pursue the merger with the Canadian Alliance that same year.

"The scene now unfolding in Liberal circles bears all the hallmarks of a movie Orchard has seen before," one Saskatchewan-based blogger posted on his site.

Senator David Smith, one of Dion's election campaign chairpersons, was trying to calm the waters yesterday, saying Orchard was still very much welcome to run as a candidate in the federal election.

Dion, said Smith, was faced with a tough decision. He is committed to having women running in one-third of the ridings across Canada and Beatty was such an attractive prospect for the Liberals, Dion felt he had to put her in that riding to run as soon as possible.

"I'm not saying anything negative about David Orchard," Smith said. "I hope he stays in the family."

It is said that former finance minister Ralph Goodale, who's long been the political godfather for the Liberals in Saskatchewan and is now the Opposition House leader, was opposed to Orchard running in the by-election.

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