'I will work for all'
“I don’t like politics that much, but this isn’t bad,” Bagnell told a jubilant crowd of about 80 Liberal supporters at the Gold Rush Inn.
‘I will work for all,’ winner vows
On the closest Yukon result ever in a federal election, Liberal party candidate Larry Bagnell eked out a 0.58-per-cent victory over incumbent NDP candidate Louise Hardy on Monday.
Bagnell, 50, overcame Hardy’s early-evening lead to pull ahead as the final votes came rolling in, making him the first Liberal MP elected in the Yukon since James Simmons in 1957.
“I don’t like politics that much, but this isn’t bad,” Bagnell told a jubilant crowd of about 80 Liberal supporters at the Gold Rush Inn. “I’m not very good at this politics stuff, but I hope I can really produce work-wise for each and every one of you who put your faith in me.”
The percentage difference is the slimmest margin of victory ever in the Yukon, but three races have been closer in terms of votes cast, including the last Liberal victory in 1957.
In that election, Simmons beat Conservative candidate Erik Nielsen by 64 votes, or one per cent.
Nielsen returned the favour to his Liberal foe in 1968, when he beat Chris Findley by 62 ballots, or 1.4 per cent.
The closest margin of votes, however, belongs to Conservative MP George Black, who sneaked by Liberal Frederick Congdon in 1921 by 49 votes.
Those 49 voters, however, represented 2.5 per cent of the electorate.
But, said Bagnell, a victory is a victory.
At one point during his victory speech, Bagnell joked the crowd would have liked his losing speech better, because it was shorter, a prospect that looked likely early in the evening.
As the initial results flowed in, the room was silent as the 30 or so supporters heard numbers that had Hardy ahead by as many as 200 votes.
CKRW, being pumped into the room, was carrying live feeds from an energized NDP campaign headquarters, where each vote for Hardy unleashed raucous cheers.
The loudest cheer from the Liberals in the early part of the evening went up when Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark was proclaimed the winner in his riding of Calgary Centre.
But, supporters kept trickling in as the evening wore on, including every Liberal MLA and some city councillors.
By 9 p.m., the crowd had transformed from sober to boisterous, as Bagnell pulled ahead for good.
Tourism Minister Sue Edelman was pacing around the room, wringing her hands with nerves.
“I’m trying to act normal in front of my kids,” she said anxiously.
By 9:20, the triumph was complete. Bagnell had beaten Hardy by less than one per cent.
“The real work starts tomorrow,” Bagnell told the jubilant crowd. “From the farthest trapper’s cabin to those who bitterly opposed me or my party, I will work for every one of you, because the Yukon deserves to be heard.”
After his speech, Bagnell talked to reporters about the campaign and some of the difficulties of dealing with an electorate spread so far afield, geographically.
“I had to make a lot of inroads into the communities, where we’d never been before,” he said.
“It was really door by door, going to all those communities, to the two voters in Elsa, the freezing night in Beaver Creek, to start gaining that support. And I’m hoping in my term of office, I’m going to spend a lot of time in the communities, and show them that I really do stick up for communities and every Yukoner, no matter who they are and where they are.”
Mending fences was another area Bagnell returned to again and again.
With the vote so close, he said, it was obvious that his mandate was not resounding.
“I’m not a partisan one who thinks all the good ideas are Liberal.”
Instead, he said, he’ll try to find consensus in the territory and bring those ideas to Ottawa.
“I made one promise and that was that I would work towards that economic agenda of land claims, of devolution, of an economic development agreement, and of a pipeline,” insisted the MP-designate.
“I can’t control all these things myself, but the guarantee I’ve given Yukoners is that I’m going to be working hard for those items.”
Premier Pat Duncan was on hand, and was one of the more vocal supporters throughout the evening, pumping her fists letting out a yell at one point, when Bagnell pulled ahead of Hardy.
“It’s a tough thing to watch. It was a real cliffhanger,” said the premier.
The final result, though, bodes well for the territory and its interests, she said.
“(I’m) very excited about having Larry working for Yukoners.... No matter what the political stripe, people recognize what a hard-working individual he is.”
Liberal MLA Mike McLarnon said of the evening’s drama that he was “extremely impressed.
“It’s going to help us in the overall picture when dealing with Ottawa. It’s extra leverage. It makes me feel better in doing my job knowing that we have Larry on our side.”
Asked if there was added pressure to produce with Liberal representation at every level, McLarnon stated: “We came in to produce.”
Bagnell said he was focused from the outset of the campaign on victory, and that his background made the difference.
As executive director of the Association of Yukon Communities and through the numerous charitable organizations he’s affiliated with, Bagnell said he gained invaluable experience and exposure that helped him connect with individual Yukoners as he went door to door.
“I came into this to fight for a vision of Canada; an inclusive vision. I’ve worked on the social service end for those in need, and I’ve worked on the economic end to build the economy.
“So, I should have a good résumé to add to those objectives, and to be able to stand out among the MPs that are elected.”
At one point, while speaking with reporters, Hardy entered the room, approached Bagnell and offered her congratulations. He moved to hug her, but was rebuffed by his disappointed opponent.
Bagnell called her brave for appearing at all.
“I’m sure she’s disappointed. I could easily have been in her position. I would have been very shattered, myself, so I think she showed remarkable poise.”
During his victory speech, Bagnell praised all his opponents.
He described Canadian Alliance candidate Jim Kenyon as acting “honourably”, especially given “the platform he was saddled with.”
Conservative hopeful Don Cox was praised for his hard work and integrity, while Canadian Heritage Party candidate Geoffrey Capp was congratulated for standing up and making his message heard.
But Bagnell’s warmest words were saved for Hardy. He told the Liberal throng she deserves credit for serving the territory for 3 1/2 years and for making the sacrifices in her life necessary when serving in political office.
When the prospect of a recount was raised, Bagnell was unperturbed.
“Democracy is democracy. If there’s a recount, whoever’s got the most votes should win. I’m fine with that.”
The premier seemed much more comfortable with the margin.
“The margin of votes was, as I understand it, either 69 or 70. We’re hearing a lot of different numbers. But certainly, that’s a lot more than ‘Landslide Jack Cable’ with his seven votes in Riverside.”
“This is great night for Yukon Liberals!” exclaimed Jason Cunning, principle secretary for the territorial Liberals.
“We’re finally sending someone to Ottawa who’s going to be a member of the caucus; who’s going to be there fighting for issues like an economic development agreement.
“He’s going to be fighting for things like the Alaska Highway pipeline. He’s going to be fighting for things like health care issues.
“It’s good to send someone who’s going to be a part of the government, and Yukoners have done that tonight.”
Cunning said that while it’s way too early to predict where Bagnell might end up in terms of position within the caucus, the victory is a positive signal for the territory and its profile on the national stage.
“I think it’s a good signal to send someone that’s part of the government to Ottawa, because that’s where the decisions are made,” he said. “When you read about it in the paper the next day, it’s too late to influence the decision-making.”
Bagnell agreed that having a Liberal senator, MP and territorial government means the ability to have Yukon needs addressed is augmented.
“I think with a Liberal government at three levels, we’ll certainly be able to work together and try and advance Yukon objectives. We all know each other.”
By Michael Hale,