Early last week, Larry Bagnell sat in a back room of his campaign office eating soup and a turkey sandwich. He grabbed a mouthful each time he finished answering a question, with the air of someone used to multitasking.
The Yukon’s Liberal candidate had already been to three campaign stops that morning, and had two more to get to before the end of the day. This was his only window for lunch.
“People think I’m everywhere, and that takes a lot of hard work,” he explained.
Bagnell had visited every Yukon community by the time the writ was dropped in August, and he hasn’t missed a single one of the dozen or so campaign forums in Whitehorse.
But he’s been methodical, too, preferring to recite his party’s platform planks over and over than to throw barbs at the other candidates.
“I don’t like politics that much, actually. I don’t like the route to get there,” he said. “I don’t like partisan politics and bickering. That’s what you have to go through to be able to get to the position where you can do things for people.”
There’s something a little rehearsed about Bagnell now, perhaps because of the decade he spent as the Yukon’s MP before losing to Conservative candidate Ryan Leef in 2011 by 132 votes. He is a fan of lists – when asked about his work as the Yukon director for Industry Canada before he ran for office in 2000, he quickly rattled off “tourism, small business, innovation, industrial development, marketing, trade missions” as some of the portfolios he worked on.
And he’s not afraid to tout his own achievements, which include being named Canada’s hardest-working MP more than once. But he maintains that he’s returned to politics to serve people, particularly those who are disadvantaged. “You know, the big things aren’t as important to me as how you can affect someone’s life. When you’re an MP, at least, sometimes you can help people.”
During this campaign, though, Bagnell has spent a lot of time focused on the big things. He’s been hammering home the Liberal Party’s $60-billion infrastructure plan, its $500-million commitment for aboriginal education infrastructure and its planned 33 per cent increase to the Northern Residents Deduction. He says each of those commitments will be felt in the Yukon, even if the details haven’t yet been worked out.
Still, he’s been forced onto the defensive by persistent attacks from Conservative candidate Ryan Leef on the long-gun registry, an issue that has plagued him for years. Bagnell opposed the long-gun registry for many years, but voted with his party to keep it in 2010, claiming he would have been ousted from the Liberal caucus had he stood his ground. Leef maintains the Liberal Party will reinstate some form of registry, and is simply trying to curry favour with voters by pretending otherwise.
The issue has come up on doorsteps, Bagnell said, but he thinks most Yukoners believe him when he says his party won’t reinstate a registry. “They understand and they’ve moved on.” He also said the Liberals will lower the number of “whipped” votes in Parliament, where MPs are forced to vote with their party.
By all appearances, Bagnell is the candidate to beat in this election. A recent poll from Environics Research gave him a 10-point lead over NDP candidate Melissa Atkinson, and a 12-point lead over Leef.
And late last week, the Council of Yukon First Nations all but endorsed him with a statement urging First Nation citizens to vote strategically. The statement referred citizens to www.strategicvoting.ca, which encourages voters in the Yukon to cast their ballots for the Liberals.
Bagnell said he believes Yukoners see him as having the “best chance” to defeat Leef. In 2011, he said, many people didn’t bother voting for him after a poll gave him a 20-point lead shortly before the election. “They were giving moral support to the NDP and the Greens. And they came to me after and said they just did it on the basis that I couldn’t lose.”
He said many of those people have told him they will vote for him this time around.
But he isn’t taking anything for granted. “I never am confident. I always campaign as if I’m one vote behind right to the eleventh hour. One of my grandmothers said if you’re going to do anything, do it well. And I’ve always tried to remember that.”
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