Regina Leader Post, Saturday, January 19, 2008
Liberals still giving each other the rocket
by Murray Mandryk
What's curious about the Liberal fireworks in the
Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River riding is how long
Such nasty nomination fights in the normally tranquil
night skies of politics are very much like fireworks --
bright and noisy enough to make us "ooh" and "ahh" and
not want to look away for a few moments, but over so
quickly that you barely recall the next day exactly what
it was that you found so enthralling.
Well, the fireworks are still exploding and there are
several reasons why -- not the least of which is the
eagerness of some Liberals to use this fight to take out
leader Stephane Dion and Ralph Goodale in Saskatchewan.
Had the controversy surrounding
Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River followed the usual
pattern, it would have fizzled in a day or two. By now,
one would think, overtures would have been made to
aggrieved nomination candidates John Dorion and David
Orchard, who would be now be singing Dion's praises for
insisting on running an aboriginal woman in what is
still (amazingly enough) a winnable seat for the
One might even think that Marcel Head -- the push
behind setting up an entirely new Liberal riding
association and perhaps Orchard's conduit in this affair
-- would have by now found a reason to fully endorse
Joan Beatty's candidacy as a sign of party unity and
Well, that hasn't happened, largely because of some
external -- and a lot of internal -- Liberal politics
both in Saskatchewan and far beyond.
The first problem is that fence-mending would have to
begin with Beatty herself. While rumours suggest that
Dion has sent emissaries to make overtures, some
Liberals suggest that Beatty hasn't bothered to do so.
(And if she has, she certainly hasn't been successful.)
While Dion supporters keep spinning the notion of what a
coup it's been to attract this star candidate, the fact
that the northern politician concerned doesn't appear to
be contributing to a resolution to this uproar may say
something about her political skill set.
The second problem is Orchard, who is less of a
firecracker in politics than he is an improvised
Having failed to impose his anti-free-trade view of
the world by working outside the political system,
Orchard and his followers have turned their attention to
imposing their views on the world from within the
political system. What should be as evident to Dion and
the Liberals, as it was to the old Progressive
Conservatives when Orchard sought that party's
leadership, is that imposing his views is really
Orchard's only interest.
That said, what normally would happen is that
Orchard's vested interests would be isolated by the
party and exposed as such. Instead, the candidacy of
this one-time Tory and anti-free trade advocate (who
also happened to be one of Dion's key leadership
organizers) has the support of some pretty credible
Liberal big guns like Doug Richardson (a key Michael
Ignatieff organizer in Saskatchewan). Some Liberals say
Orchard may even have the support of the Merchant clan,
which also supported Ignatieff.
It's about here where we begin to see that
Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River affair is more than
squabbling northern politics. This pyrotechnic display
may be fueled by Liberals themselves.
Certainly, there are any number of Liberals
frustrated by Dion's decisions -- like appointing
candidates. In fact, after losing all three Quebec
byelections (including the Montreal Liberal fortress of
Outremont, where Dion's hand-picked candidate lost the
riding for the party for the first time since the
1930s), Dion has faced mounting pressure.
Another byelection loss in
Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River -- a seat that's
changed hands four times in the last four elections --
may not be fatal, but it won't help Dion's cause.
(Especially if it's accompanied by completely unexpected
losses in the Toronto byelections.)
But the other person likely to wear a
Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River byelection loss is
Ralph Goodale. Having been at the helm of the
Saskatchewan Liberal party for as long as he has,
Goodale may have more enemies within his party than
Bet that some of them will point to another downturn
in Liberal fortunes as an argument for a changing of the
Bet that you'll see fireworks for a while yet.
- Mandryk is the political columnist for the