National Post on line, Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Riding must have say on candidate
by Michelle Hugli
There are many reasons to be upset with Stéphane
Dion's decision to appoint former NDP MLA Joan Beatty to
represent the federal Liberal Party in the March 17
byelection in the Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River
Liberal members being denied a chance to participate
in the nomination process, suggestions that senior
Saskatchewan Liberal MP Ralph Goodale is opposed to
David Orchard representing the party in the riding and
having high-ranking Liberals fly in to tell northerners
who is best to represent them are some of the reasons
people are angry and upset.
But one of the biggest problems with appointing
Beatty is that it suggests she couldn't have won the
Liberal nomination on her own. Even if that's far from
the truth, given that she is a strong candidate with a
lot of supporters, that's one of the messages Dion sent
when he decided to skip the nomination process and make
the appointment himself.
By appointing a strong candidate, based in a large
part on her race and gender, Dion has called her
abilities into question. If she's such a strong
candidate and the best person to represent the Liberals
in that riding, why not let the members decide?
Could the concern be that someone else will get
nominated and the Liberals will lose an opportunity to
have a strong, aboriginal female candidate in that
riding, or that they'll have to deal with a party member
as candidate who makes them nervous?
In any case, as the leader of the party, Dion has the
authority to appoint any candidate he chooses. But many
Liberals in the riding have made it abundantly clear
that they do not appreciate Dion dictating who
represents their riding and want his move overturned.
That happening is highly unlikely. The party leader
made his decision with the strong support (or
suggestion) of Goodale and we can expect him to stand by
that decision regardless of the actions of disgruntled
Dion has made it clear that he wants more women to
represent the Liberal party across Canada. That's
excellent. Beatty is a strong candidate who brings
political experience gained in the Saskatchewan
legislature, she works very hard and she understands the
issues in the riding.
The controversy involving Beatty is as much about her
race and gender as it is about the democratic process.
In fact, it appears to be more about race and gender,
for it has trumped the democratic process in this case.
While being an aboriginal woman can be an asset
because you bring a different and much-needed
perspective to a job, it can be a hindrance too. People
see what you are before they see what you can do. It
means you have to work much harder to be treated like
others who are not female or aboriginal. It comes with
stereotypes and assumptions that you have to constantly
When you're not a white male in a high position of
trust and authority -- or running to achieve that
position -- people see what you are first and only then
what you can do. All we need to do is to look at the
American presidential contest for proof.
When we look at Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, we
see a woman and a black man first, their policies as
The same can be said for Beatty in this case. Whether
the decision to appoint her is based partly on her
gender and race or whether that's being used as a reason
to avoid other members from winning the nomination, the
fact is much is being said about what she is rather than
what she can do. She could do a lot for that riding, and
party members deserve to hear her ideas and vote for her
based on her skills and abilities.
If she has to campaign for her nomination, we will
hear more about what she will do as a Liberal candidate
in the riding than what she is, which is all we've heard
As a result of her appointment, some Liberal members
have indicated they might boycott the byelection. That
just doesn't make any sense to me.
As a party member, don't you want your party to
succeed and hold as many seats as possible, even if you
have internal disagreements to work out? To boycott the
byelection or vote for another party sounds like cutting
off your nose to spite your face. You only hurt yourself
or, in this case, your party.
I'm pleased that Dion wants more women and aboriginal
people representing his party. But the best way to do
that is to approach high qualified people such as Beatty
and strongly encourage them to run for the nomination by
members in their riding.
In the end, you really have to let the people decide.