Regina Leader Post, Tuesday, January 16, 2008
The drama of Beatty and the beast
by Murray Mandryk
There may be a reason why you don't see that many
Liberals around -- especially here in Saskatchewan.
After all, not everyone can tolerate that much drama
in their life.
Consider the greatest battles in the Liberal party in
this province in the past 15 years or so and how many
times those dramas were fueled by issues of personality,
rather than substance:
- Remember the theatre of the absurd when past
provincial leader Jim Melenchuk and then-MLA Ron Osika
joined the NDP government "coalition" after the 1999
election for reasons of personal gain (i.e. cabinet
posts and power)? Remember the nasty battle to oust
- Who will ever forget the drama surrounding the
demise of former leader Lynda Haverstock? She was
overthrown in 1995 by members of her own caucus (some of
whom now lead comparatively tranquil lives as the new
heads of Saskatchewan Party government's ministries).
- Then there was the infamous and dramatic 1993
battle for the Regina Wascana federal nomination between
Ralph Goodale and Tony Merchant --argu- ably the
nastiest, most vicious political fight in recent times,
with both sides accusing the other of dirty tactics
including bringing in busloads of teenage delegates with
the lure of pizza and beer.
- The most recent Liberal fiasco is federal leader
Stephane Dion's appointment of former NDP MLA and
cabinet minister Joan Beatty as the Liberal candidate in
This production of Beatty and the Beast (the latter
title role played by either Ralph Goodale or David
Orchard, depending on your perspective) again has people
buzzing about Liberal politics, though not necessarily
in a good way.
The ultimate problem for Dion, Goodale and company is
that few are willing to buy the Liberals' altruistic
explanation that this is about finding quality female
candidates in winnable seats.
For one thing, there's simply too much personal
sniping to accept this surface argument. For another, it
doesn't seem plausible that Dion would replace one
supposed injustice with another.
Accepting that some of the melodramatic rhetoric we
heard from the emergency protest meeting in Prince
Albert on the weekend about "colonial attitudes" has
likely been uttered for dramatic flare, one might assume
that the Liberals would at least try to be conciliatory
to those in the northern riding who now feel put upon.
That the Liberal hierarchy doesn't seem to be the
least bit chastened by Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill
River Liberals who feel that their democratic rights
have been overridden only leads one to conclude that
something else is driving this dispute.
In Liberal circles, that generally means nasty,
For months now, some Liberals have privately
contended that they would leave the party if David
Orchard started to play any bigger role than he has
Admittedly, one can understand why Orchard hasn't
exactly been met with open arms. Few political figures
(to be an actual politician, don't you have to get
elected to something?) have proven to be as disruptive
That said, Orchard was welcomed into Liberal ranks.
Heck, he was even Dion's key organizer in Saskatchewan,
so one can appreciate why he would feel he has the right
to run for a party nomination.
So, typical of the Liberals, what you again have is a
personality mess -- one ripe for all the drama we've
come to expect in Liberal ranks.
Whether or not you agree with the philosophies of the
Conservatives, the Saskatchewan Party or the NDP, you
would concede that their more defined philosophies tend
to be a unifying force for their membership.
While these parties may still have personality
conflicts, more often than not, they can identify their
enemies as those outside the tent.
But in the big-tent world of the Liberals, where
philosophy matters less and where all are welcome, is it
any wonder that conflict takes on an element of
personality? Would you expect a different outcome in a
plot line involving the party's leader (a Quebec
separatist in his youth), appointing a New Democrat to
stop the candidacy bid of an anti-free-trader who once
ran for the Conservative leadership?
In Liberal ranks, it tends to be all about the actors
. . . all about the drama.
- Mandryk is the political columnist for the