Politics, farming run deep for Saskatchewan NDP Leader Dwain Lingenfelter

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REGINA - Sandwiched between three older sisters and three younger sisters, Saskatchewan NDP Leader Dwain Lingenfelter knows a thing or two about being in a tough spot.

"I joke about it. It's why I'm a little bit crazy sometimes because if you've got six sisters and you're in the middle of them, you've got lots of challenges," Lingenfelter says.

"But I say that fondly because in my political career there have been no bigger advocates and canvassers and supporters than my sisters.

"Although our name has a German background, our family culture and history is Irish. Fighting and arguing and being loud are what my family is all about. But when it comes to getting along and when we need to do campaigning, everybody is on deck and my sisters have been my largest supporters."

Lingenfelter, 62, grew up in southwestern Saskatchewan near Shaunavon, not far from Swift Current, which rival Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall calls home.

Lingenfelter's grandfather homesteaded in the area in 1911. The farm has grown and still remains in the family.

"We've seeded and are now harvesting 100 crops in our family on the same land," Lingenfelter says. "Being with my family down at our old farmhouse in southwest Saskatchewan is a big part of our life."

His life before politics took some twists and turns.

There was a stint in a band in high school and university. The group was called "Irving and the Gunmen" even though no one was named Irving. They toured towns around Shaunavon.

"I'm sure people don't think of me, when they see me in a suit and giving a speech, that this guy had long hair and played a bass guitar," Lingenfelter told The Canadian Press.

"The first tour, people were very disappointed because our music wasn't very good. After the tour of the six towns, we changed our name and went back again. And by the time we had changed our name four times, we had become fairly accomplished ... I remember by the time we got finished we had pretty good crowds coming out."

Lingenfelter then worked as a customs officer before politics came calling.

He was first elected to the provincial legislature for the NDP in Shaunavon in 1978.

Reg Gross, a former member of the legislature, says Lingenfelter was a quick study.

"You didn't have to show him a lot of ropes. He was figuring out things pretty quick."

Lingenfelter was appointed social services minister under former premier Allan Blakeney. He was defeated in Shaunavon in 1986. But in 1988 he won a byelection in Regina Elphinstone, the seat Blakeney had held.

When the NDP returned to power under Roy Romanow, Lingenfelter held cabinet posts that included economic development, Crown investments and agriculture. He served time as deputy premier and government house leader as well.

Some saw him as a possible successor to Romanow, but instead, Lingenfelter jumped to the private sector in 2000. He became vice-president of government relations for Calgary-based energy company Nexen Inc.

He was lured back to Saskatchewan after the New Democrats lost the 2007 election to Wall's Saskatchewan Party and former premier Lorne Calvert stepped down as NDP leader.

In June 2009, the battered and bruised Opposition NDP chose Lingenfelter as the man to lead them.

While politics run deep, farming and family run even deeper, Lingenfelter says.

"I have ... two major parts to my life. One is politics which I love. It's a passion and has been for many, many years. But my other passion ... is my family and my farm down in southwest Saskatchewan in the Cypress Hills area."

Most weekends, he and his wife, Rubiela, pack up the car in Regina and head to the farm with their children Sahid and Hannah. Lingenfelter also has three adult children — Sacha, Matthew and Travis — from his first marriage.

He says he's learned how to better balance family life with political life this time around.

Gross says Lingenfelter worships the ground his kids walk on.

"He's a real good dad. He can't do enough for them and he's there for everything they ever need or ever want. He's always been there."

Lingenfelter knows he faces a big challenge in the Nov. 7 election.

Wall, a smooth talker who is quick on his feet, raised his national profile during a fight over the future of the province's potash industry. Several polls have pegged him as the most popular provincial leader in Canada.

"Brad is a popular and a populist politician and that does make life more difficult. There's no doubt about that," acknowledges Lingenfelter.

"But having said that, often times people want a leader that has broad experience and puts forward a platform that means a great deal to their family. And at the end of the day, I think what people will vote for is not the popularity of the individual, but what is the political party, in their platform, promising to make their life and their family's life better and more successful."

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