WHITEHORSE, YUKON – Larry Bagnell spent the entire afternoon knocking on doors. He got to 14.
“Four weren’t home, but we did okay with the other ten,” says Larry, the much-liked former Liberal MP for Yukon. “That’s pretty good.”
Welcome to Yukon. There’s a population of just over 35,000 people here, and about 22,000 of them can vote. When you consider that Yukon comprises just about half a million square kilometres, you can understand Larry Bagnell’s day a bit better.
Do the math, if you like: there are 0.06 people per square kilometre in Yukon. Which means campaigning here is a lot harder than it is anywhere else. A lot.
Larry’s not complaining, though, and neither is his main opponent, Conservative Ryan Leef. Leef, a diminutive former Mountie, is (for now) the incumbent. Both – like the people they represent – are genial, plain-talking folks, and not too partisan. That’s the Yukon way. Not too aggressive, up here.
They know what getting elected in Yukon is like: it’s a lot of hard work. It’s spending an entire afternoon knocking on only 14 doors. And finding out that just ten of them have someone at home.
Jason Kenney swept into town on Thursday, all neatly barbered, dark suit and tie, shiny shoes. He stood out like a moose playing a fiddle at the luggage carousel at Whitehorse’s modest airport. Among other things, he wasn’t dressed right for the weather. It may be Fall up here, but it sure feels like Winter.
Kenney was in Whitehorse, Yukon’s biggest city and therefore its main electoral prize, to assist Leef in getting re-elected. But it won’t be easy. Last time around, Leef beat Bagnell by a whisker, assisted by the unpopularity of the Liberal gun registry, the unpopularity of Michael Ignatieff, and the popularity of the Green candidate.
The Green guy took more than 3,000 votes, which is mainly what did in Larry Bagnell. On election night, Ryan Leef won Yukon electoral district with an extra one per cent. Just 132 votes.
So, that’s why Jason Kenney is here, to make a mid-afternoon pledge about funding military cadets. Later on, the Minister of Everything was the star of a $125-a-plate fundraising dinner.
Leef needs all the help he can get. The latest poll has Larry Bagnell ahead of him by 11 points. Among other things, Ryan Leef needs some good publicity.
Leef got some publicity a few weeks back, but the jury is out on how good it was. A “hippy-dippy type,” as one resident described her to us, decided that Leef’s campaign signs were blocking her view of the environment. So, at night, she went out to cut holes in them.
Leef made news when he and a supporter caught the young woman, made a citizen’s arrest, and put her in handcuffs. That incident attracted attention from far away, including no less than the New York Times. So, whenever Ryan Leef’s name comes up, this week, so does the handcuffing incident. “She was 120 pounds, soaking wet,” one fellow said of the hippy-dippy sign-cutter. “They didn’t need to handcuff her.”
Polls and handcuffs notwithstanding, Larry Bagnell and Ryan Leef aren’t taking any chances. And they seemingly aren’t depending on Ottawa-based campaigners to do them any favours, either. Up here, Justin Trudeau is regarded by male voters as he is by male voters pretty much everywhere else – that he just isn’t ready. Too big city, too unfamiliar with rural life. That’s Larry Bagnell’s cross to bear – so Justin Trudeau’s name doesn’t get mentioned much, as we gather over beers at the Coal Miner’s Daughter on Main Street in Whitehorse.
But neither is there a lot of Stephen Harper in evidence at Leef’s big campaign office up on the Alaska Highway, across from the airport. It’s as neat as a pin, and Ryan Leef is what is on offer, not Stephen Harper. After ten years, folks in Yukon – like folks elsewhere – wonder if ten years are enough.
It’s been a long, tough campaign, and in Yukon, it feels a lot longer and a lot tougher than it is anywhere else. When you have voters as spread out as much as they are here, that’s just the way it is.
What’s going to happen next, we ask the table of Liberals, Conservatives and non-committeds gathered at the Coal Miner’s Daughter. One draws on a beer, considering.
“It’s been weeks, and they’re all still tied,” he says. “It’s gonna get really nasty in the last few weeks.” Heads around the table nod.
”Not up here, though,” someone says, brightening. “Not the Yukon way.”
It isn’t, it isn’t. So, with that, we adjourn. And Larry Bagnell heads out into the still-light day, looking for more doors to knock on.