A little bushwhacking doesn’t dissuade Bagnell

Larry Bagnell is everywhere. At least, that’s the word on the street. At last weekend’s comedy festival, one of the comedians said,…

Larry Bagnell is everywhere.

At least, that’s the word on the street.

At last weekend’s comedy festival, one of the comedians said, “Is Larry here tonight? Really? . . . He’s not?

“Larry’s the type of guy who’s everywhere. You know, you go to the store, he’s there; you go to a party, he’s there; you get in a cab, he’s already there.”

It rang true.

And everyone laughed.

Not even a week later, I opened my door.

Guess who it was?

Yup, Bagnell.

My little cabin on Squatter’s Row doesn’t see many canvassers, and my neighbour, who lives in a silver, 1950s Airstream trailer, sees fewer.

However, that night Bagnell canvassed the whole snow-packed, rutted road.

“I used to ski this road to visit people,” he said.

“And tonight I had to walk up to the last house; it was too icy, my car couldn’t make it up that steep hill.” 

The car, affectionately called Larry’s Limo, is a 1989 Mazda.

It fit the neighbourhood; in fact some of its distant cousins are rusting across from my place.

“I keep this car because it was my father’s,” said Bagnell.

It’s a reliable memento.

In it, Bagnell crisscrosses the territory, meeting constituents, attending graduations, openings and meetings.

“I drove five hours to Elsa recently,” he said.

Population: one.

By the end of this campaign he will have visited every community in the territory, most of them twice.

“Those living rurally often feel the capital gets everything, so I try to get out to the rural constituents lots to hear their concerns,” he said.

Old Crow has been a frequent stop as he assisted the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation’s fight to save the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve from oil development.

Bagnell travelled to Washington, DC, numerous times with the Gwich’in to raise awareness on the issue and protest, paying for most of these trips out of his own pocket.

“In Washington he is, as usual, just tireless,” said Gwitchin chief Joe Linklater.

“If he wasn’t up on the hill helping us with our lobbying efforts, he was over at the Canadian Embassy making phone calls and setting up meetings.”

One night, he sat in the Senate until 3 a.m., waiting to talk to some critically important senators, and succeeded, said Linklater.

“Trying to get home at three in the morning wasn’t easy,” he added.

“Easy” is not in Bagnell’s lexicon.

In his second term as the territory’s MP, he continues to fly home from Ottawa every weekend.

“It takes him eight or nine hours to get back here; he is here for 32 hours working in his office and attending events and then he catches the red-eye back to Ottawa Sunday night,” said his fiancé Melissa Craig.

“It’s crazy; he hardly sleeps.”

Craig is wearing a pin that says, “Larry works for me.”

“She’s going to keep wearing that, even after the election,” joked Bagnell’s campaign manager Shayne Fairman.

Quality time for this couple is a rare commodity.

“If I want to see him, I drive to the communities with him and attend events,” said Craig.

Often, Bagnell will arrive in Whitehorse Friday afternoon, immediately drive to Dawson for an evening event and then drive back to Whitehorse that same night, getting in around 5 a.m., so he can be in his office bright and early Saturday.

“It’s exhausting,” he admitted.

“But my goal is to do the best I can for my constituents.”

Making it to rural events is a priority for Bagnell, said Craig.

“There was the time he spent two weeks (in Old Crow) — I think he danced with everybody in town at least once, if not twice,” said Linklater.

“During our Gwitchin gathering we had, maybe, 700 people in the community and Larry talked to every single person.”

And in Ottawa, he is equally approachable.

When Yukon College student president Jason Leonard visited the capital to receive an award, Bagnell picked him up at the airport and took him to dinner.

“Then we went and took pictures in the legislature at 1 a.m.,” said Leonard.

For a while, Craig considered moving to Ottawa so she could see more of Bagnell.

Then she realized it wouldn’t work.

“In Ottawa, Larry is often up till two or three in the morning working on legislation, then he is up again at six or seven for meetings,” she said.

“It may sound crazy, but I think if I lived there I would actually see him less.”

Listed as one of the five most outspoken MPs in Ottawa, Bagnell has broken party ranks nine times.

Once, the Liberal Party was against a bill calling for the labeling of genetically modified foods, he said.

“But a number of Yukoners approached me about this issue, so I voted against the bill, to represent them.”

Bagnell also voted against a bill calling for harsher penalties for selling drugs within 500 metres of schools.

“I wanted harsher penalties across the board, not just closer to schools,” he said.

“Lots of these bills are not well written, or won’t stand up legally and, often, we have a better bill in the planning process already.

“I look at all the aspects of a bill and vote for what is best for Yukoners.”

Instrumental in securing funding for the Canada Winter Games, Bagnell lured Prime minister Paul Martin north two years ago to break ground at the Canada Games Centre site.

“The Yukon is getting a huge amount of money for infrastructure and another $37 million in gas tax, which the Liberals have promised to renew,” said Bagnell.

The Conservatives have made no similar commitments to the North.

“You need a strong economy to help the needy, to help the environment and fund education,” he said.

“You should judge a society by how it treats its most needy citizens.”

Bagnell still lives in the Lobird trailer park.

“On clear days you can see all the way to Marsh Lake,” he said.

“I was living there before I was elected MP and I didn’t want people to think I had changed after I was elected, so I haven’t moved.”

When Bagnell moved North, he wasn’t dreaming of politics.

“I thought maybe I would be a dog musher,” he said.

But after years spent working with non-profits, the Association of Yukon Communities and volunteering, politics became an obvious choice.

“The first time that he ran, we had to keep editing down the list of his volunteer organizations and activities because it wouldn’t fit in the brochure,” said Fairman with a laugh.

Bagnell was voted volunteer of the year in 1995.

“I don’t like politics that much, actually,” said Bagnell.

He finds politics negative, and strives to run positive campaigns.

“But the thing that keeps me going, and the reason I do it is, primarily, to help people.

“I wouldn’t have the energy to keep up this type of schedule if we weren’t winning a number of battles to help Yukoners.

“And I hear at the door that we’ve done a lot for the Yukon and solved problems for individuals and organizations, by speaking up for them in Ottawa or dealing with their individual cases.

“That makes it all worthwhile.”

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