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North's perennial political underdog still growling

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FLIN FLON -- It took Wally Daudrich and his wife a decade to build one of northern Manitoba's most successful tourism businesses from the ground up.

Lazy Bear Lodge in Churchill stands as a testament to the patience of Daudrich, who retrieved logs for the building by selectively cutting dead standing timber.

Now the 49-year-old entrepreneur is hoping to use his persistence to realize an even loftier dream: painting northern Manitoba Tory blue.

"I'm obviously trying to effect change, because what's happening in the North right now isn't working," says Daudrich.

A tall, fit man with thinning hair, Daudrich has already run for MP of the vast Churchill riding three times. He was a Reform candidate in 1993 and a Conservative in 2008 and 2011.

Each time he has trailed the NDP by huge margins. Even in 2011, when he spent respectable bucks and knocked on at least 10,000 doors, the second-place Daudrich earned half as many votes as re-elected MP Niki Ashton.

Yet he still believes he's in this game.

On the political map, the Churchill riding is a slab of orange in a sea of blue. It's been mostly NDP and occasionally Liberal for 34 years.

While there is little hard evidence the political sands are shifting in a major way, there may be larger questions as to whether Daudrich can lead the breakthrough.

He has emerged as a divisive figure. His references to "NDP-style socialism" and the "liberal media," not to mention his once calling Barack Obama the worst U.S. president ever, can make him sound more like a Deep South Republican than a standard-bearer for Canada's governing party.

Or could it be that real northerners, when the media and stuffy politicians aren't listening, actually do, as Daudrich does, debate abortion, the breakdown of the traditional family and the need for competition in public health care?

Whatever the case, the Winnipeg-born father of five chalks up the "divisive" tag to his going against the grain.

"If people would say that I'm divisive, I would say that when you go upstream, when you're going against the flow... you will agitate people," Daudrich says, "because they think that they have ownership in this -- they've staked this out as NDP territory, and it's not NDP territory."

In an effort to make it Conservative territory, Daudrich regularly articulates his positions on the troubled aboriginal reserves that largely make up this riding.

He's one of the few politicians willing to say that reserves already receive enough funding. For him, what must change is a dependency culture that breeds a low sense of self-worth.

A quote that has stuck with Daudrich was uttered by Canadian singer F©lix Leclerc: "The best way to kill a man is to pay him to do nothing."

Daudrich must know that by talking so candidly about reserves, he risks being labelled a racist. Any such notion melts away, however, as he describes weeping with aboriginal elders devastated by what their communities have become.

Just as it will take more than tears to mend reserves, Daudrich will need more than emotional anecdotes to vary the dominant political culture up north.

He will "most likely" seek the Tory nomination in 2015. By then, it will have been 41 years since Cecil Smith, the late Progressive Conservative auctioneer, last won the seat for a right-leaning party.

To win, Daudrich will need to tout his three key priorities of massive infrastructure development, individual property rights on reserves and strengthening an underdeveloped mining industry.

Those are unassailable goals, unlike some of the rhetoric for which he is known. He was at his most excessive in 2011 when his campaign claimed MP Ashton's support of a transgender-rights bill amounted to giving grown men access to girls' washrooms.

Perhaps as the underdog, Daudrich feels he must make a lot of noise to get noticed. The truth is, such language only diverts attention from some of the good ideas he has vis--vis the real issues.

Then again, since when has politics been about the real issues?


Jonathon Naylor is editor of The Reminder newspaper in Flin Flon.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 10, 2013 A13

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