Why not Bagnell?

The Liberal Party is looking for a winning leader. Reeling from scandals, its first election loss in 12 years and the recent defection of British…

The Liberal Party is looking for a winning leader.

Reeling from scandals, its first election loss in 12 years and the recent defection of British Columbia MP David Emerson to the Conservative cabinet, the Liberal Party needs to heal the rift within its ranks between the Chretienites and those loyal to former Prime Minister Paul Martin.

It needs someone who bridges the Chretien-Martin gap, who is willing to set aside in-house partisanship in favour of beating the minority Conservative government whenever it falls, which could happen in six months or four years.

Why not Larry Bagnell?

Consider: Bagnell just won his third federal campaign with his best result to date: 48.5 per cent of the vote, one of the highest percentages of any Liberal incumbent.

First elected under Jean Chretien’s leadership in 2000, Bagnell was able to walk the balance beam of power that proved to be the party’s Achilles heel.

Nobody accused Bagnell of handing cash-filled envelopes to Liberal-friendly advertising firms in the Yukon.

He is free of the taint of the sponsorship scandal.

This is one of the reasons why he did so well, while high-profile Liberals were drummed out of Parliament.

Granted, many who voted for him were voting Bagnell, not Liberal.

But isn’t that the kind of robust reputation the party needs at the helm right now?

“I would hope that the next leader of our party has the integrity of Larry Bagnell and has the work ethic of Larry Bagnell and a demonstrated ability to get things done,” said Liberal fixer Shayne Fairman, who helped co-ordinate all three of Bagnell’s federal campaigns.

“If Larry Bagnell decided to run for the Liberal leadership, I would be very inclined to support him,” said Fairman.

“He has all the qualities of a leader that I would like to see.”

Sure, Bagnell is the MP from the Yukon — that little riding of 33,000 or so tucked away in the northwest corner of the country that cries for funding most of the time.

But former MP Audrey McLaughlin was leader of the New Democrats for years.

And another former MP, Eric Nielson, was deputy prime minister in Brian Mulroney’s government.

So there’s precedent for high-profile Yukon MPs (although there’s never been a prime minister from any territory).

In the last government, Bagnell’s star was on the rise.

He was named parliamentary secretary for Natural Resources, doing much of the legwork for former minister John Efford.

And within weeks of the June 2004 campaign, he got Martin to put visits to Whitehorse and Watson Lake at the top of his agenda, before official visits to any other riding in the country.

If the Liberals had won on January 23, Bagnell would have had a shot at cabinet.

But they didn’t, and Martin promised to step down, and now the Liberals need a new leader.

When asked if he’d run for the party’s top job, Bagnell chuckled.

“I’m sort of junior on the list of Liberals that are available at the moment, so, no, I haven’t planned any leadership campaign,” he said.

“There is a magic to being the MP from the Yukon. It’s a special riding and people think of it very kindly.

“The problem is that if you’ve been fighting for things for just the Yukon, or just the North, you’re known for fighting for things for very few of the 100,000 or so Liberal members that you need on side for a leadership campaign.

“If you were fighting for things for Ontario, you could have tens of thousands of members who would know what you were doing and you’ve done something for them, for a province, and up to 100 MPs would support you because you’re in caucus with them all the time and you would have been fighting for and achieving things to help them.

“So in that way, (the Yukon) is a bit isolated.”

So what’s the alternative?

Another middle-aged white guy from Ontario or Quebec?

At least the Conservatives moved beyond central Canada and ran with Stephen Harper, a Westerner, who becomes prime minister today.

“We want to see the Liberal Party of Canada get more than just a new leader,” veteran Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella said in a blog posting Monday.

“We want to see new ideas, new people, new approaches.”

Bagnell would offer some of these.

At times, his campaign tapped progressive ideas, especially when he spoke of immigration and indigenous peoples and the need to find solutions to modern, global problems with input “from all peoples, from all cultures.”

It was impressive.

But, lacking a significant power base, Bagnell will remain a little-known secret.

A lot like the riding he represents.

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