Earlier today, the Prime Minister announced that four by-elections will be held on March 17. Earlier this week, a most fascinating controversy emerged in one of the affected ridings: Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River (northern Saskatchewan).
David Orchard, the Saskatchewan-based activist whose grassroots organization helped Dion win the Liberal leadership, has declared his candidacy for the Liberal nomination. However, Ralph Goodale is pushing for Dion to instead appoint Joan Beatty, who was just re-elected as a provincial NDP MLA, as the Liberal by-election candidate.
The Globe and Mail identifies two possible motivations. First, “Goodale’s free-market policy leanings clash with the reputation of Mr. Orchard, who campaigned against free trade with the U.S.” Second, he does not want to risk Orchard challenging his position as the Boss Hogg of Liberal politics in Saskatchewan.
Randy Burton of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix identifies the same two factors: “It may be that Goodale doesn’t want the Liberal brand to be confused with Orchards’ long-standing concerns about free trade and what that might do to the Liberals’ chances with the business community. . . . It may also be that Goodale doesn’t want to be supplanted as the province’s most influential Liberal should Orchard wind up getting elected to Parliament.”
This situation will provide an interesting test of Dion’s supposedly progressive credentials. Will he appoint mild-mannered Beatty simply to foreclose the possibility of a rabble-rousing economic populist winning the Liberal nomination vote?
Another point is that, if the Liberals had any semblance of a grassroots organization rather than just an electoral machine, they would not need to frequently appoint candidates to prevent outside agitators from “taking over” nominations.
Finally, as someone who sees the NDP as a grassroots movement worth supporting rather than just as a convenient electoral vehicle in northern Saskatchewan, I find Beatty’s public musings about whether to run as a New Democrats or as a Liberal disconcerting.
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