North·Profile

Former Yukon Liberal MP Larry Bagnell wants back in the game on Parliament Hill

Larry Bagnell served as Yukon MP for a decade before being narrowly defeated by Conservative Ryan Leef. Now Bagnell is fighting to once again represent Yukoners in Ottawa.

'I've heard so much over the last two years from people just ready for a change'

Larry Bagnell represented Yukon as MP from 2011 to 2011. 'I have that respect so I can hit the ground running and get things done,' Bagnell says. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Larry Bagnell wants his old job back.

That is, he wants to be elected as the Liberal MP, to represent Yukoners in Ottawa. Bagnell held the post of MP from 2000 to 2011, when he was narrowly defeated by Conservative Ryan Leef. Bagnell says that result was shocking, particularly since the Liberals say a poll had Bagnell in a very comfortable lead.

"The papers said I couldn't possibly lose," he said.

But lose he did, forfeiting the job he says he loved. There's not much dispute that Bagnell did a bang-up job while in office. He was voted the Best Constituency MP and the Hardest Working MP during his stint in Ottawa.

Bagnell served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources in Paul Martin's government and as Critic for Northern Affairs in Stephane Dion's shadow cabinet.

Bagnell takes a photo for some tourists in Haines Junction, Yukon. (CBC)

He established a reputation for being a 'nose to the grindstone' kind of MP, something that 57-year-old Erica Biondeli remembers today.

"I vote for the Liberals, because he helped us with our citizenship," Biondeli says. "Larry was MP and I was really satisfied with that."

Bagnell says a strong Green Party candidate ate into his base, which he admits no one saw coming.

He says that's not a mistake the Liberals will make again.

"The sentiment I'm hearing out there is that people are much more attuned to the fact that that can happen this time. A lot of people don't want that to happen. I've heard so much over the last two years from people just ready for a change."

Strategic voting

Louise McLaughlin says she's one of them. She's casting her vote strategically and frets about the outcome.

"I'm mostly concerned right now about how we can best defeat the Conservative candidate in the Yukon," she says. "And that's a difficult choice for everybody because we're worried about splitting the left."

Bagnell agrees that one of his strongest assets is his name recognition: young, old and in-between know him on a first name basis. Bagnell says it's gratifying that people remember his hard work and appreciate it.

It's not unusual for Bagnell to show up at dances, charity events, potlatches, even local bars on a Saturday night. He doesn't apologize for being, as some say, 'ubiquitous Larry.'

Liberal candidate Larry Bagnell made the campaign rounds at a Whitehorse bar Friday night. (CBC)

"People say, 'this is great to see you out with the people.' I have always made it my point to go where Yukoners are, because they're not going to come to the MP's office, most of them. But when you go to where they are, they see you're approachable."

Long-gun registry: 'It's history, it's disappeared'

Bagnell's biggest baggage is the long-gun registry. He voted in favour of it in 2010, although he told Yukoners he would oppose it.

He says it was a difficult choice, but defends it, saying he wanted to be able to keep influence so he could work for the territory.

And he reassures voters — as he has several times in this campaign — that the registry will not return.

"It's not coming back, the big thing is, it's not coming back. It's history, it's disappeared, and Justin Trudeau made the commitment in 2013. There's no way we're bringing it back."

Bagnell says not only is he well-known in Ottawa, he also has connections and credibility.

"That's a big strength I have," he says. "I have that respect so I can hit the ground running and get things done.

"I have the support. You always need the support of caucus to get anything done in parliament."

An Environics poll in mid-September showed Bagnell with a comfortable 10 point lead over the NDP, with the Conservatives trailing in third.

Both the NDP and Conservative campaigns concede that Bagnell is the one to beat.

But as the campaign heads into the final two weeks, Bagnell and his team are taking nothing for granted: not one vote.

Bagnell says he won't make that mistake again.

In Yukon, there are four candidates running in the Oct. 19 federal election. CBC North will profile all four candidates.

About the Author

Raised in Ross River, Yukon, Nancy Thomson is a graduate of Ryerson University's journalism program. Her first job with CBC Yukon was in 1980, when she spun vinyl on Saturday afternoons. She rejoined CBC Yukon in 1993, and focuses on First Nations issues and politics. You can reach her at nancy.thomson@cbc.ca.

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