PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. – A Liberal Party nomination dispute in Saskatchewan enmeshed in politics, race and gender became more complicated – and confrontational – Saturday.
More than 140 disaffected party members voted to create a new riding executive they hope will in turn hold a nomination runoff to decide who will carry the party banner for the northern riding of Desnethe-Misinippi-Churchill River in a March 17 byelection.
But the party already has a candidate – former provincial NDP cabinet minister Joan Beatty – who was appointed by party leader Stephane Dion last week.
Nevertheless, Jim Durocher, an organizer of the event and past president of the Metis Association of Saskatchewan, said democracy must prevail.
“Why should Stephane Dion – who doesn’t know anything about our constituency – impose that on us? That’s just not right. We’re not going to take it,” he said.
The move has left provincial party brass shaking their heads, given, they say, that the riding already has an executive and that any final nomination decision rests with senior party officials in Ottawa.
“It’s confusing,” said Frank Proto, president of the Saskatchewan Liberal Association.
“There was an executive put in place last April.”
Proto said they will work with the interim committee to address future concerns, but that as far as Beatty goes, it’s a done deal.
“We have a candidate and that’s not going to be reversed,” he said, adding he toured the sprawling northern riding last week and found unanimous support for Beatty.
The members at Saturday’s meeting – including area mayors and native leaders – also decided to formally petition and write to Dion and urge he retract the Beatty decision. They will also ask Beatty to step down and run in a nomination race.
The byelection is one of four being held that day.
The riding had been held by Liberal MP Gary Merasty. He won by just 67 votes over his Tory competitor in 2006, but resigned last year.
David Orchard – a former Conservative party leadership candidate and a key supporter in Dion’s 2006 successful bid for the Liberal crown – was at the meeting, said Durocher.
Orchard had been campaigning hard to win the nomination in the riding, which has a large aboriginal population.
The decision by Dion last week to appoint Beatty was to help fulfil a pledge to bring more women into the political process.
“Joan Beatty brings to the Liberal Party of Canada a strong mix of local knowledge, aboriginal expertise, political experience and a tradition of service to the people of Saskatchewan,” Dion said at the time in a news release.
Beatty is a former journalist and one-time minister of culture, youth and recreation.
She and the rest of the provincial NDP found themselves on the outside of power looking in late last year when they were defeated in a general election by the Saskatchewan Party.
Durocher said their concern is not about Beatty but about the process: “This is not a Joan Beatty issue.”