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Shaving political points

Barber's shop a hotbed of political discussion

Andrew Raven
Northern News Services

Hay River (Aug 04/03) - Sometimes the most heated political discussions in Hay River don't take place in the town's council chambers. They happen in Henry White's barber chair.

"Around an election, I can have some pretty intense discussions with my customers," says White, who's been cutting hair in Hay River for eight years.

"There are times when my blood gets flowing."

Most of White's customers know just what to do when sitting in his chair.

"The key when talking politics with Henry is to wait until he puts the clippers down," joked Darryl Sloat.

White is well known in Hay River as an outspoken critic of the political process.

"Henry usually has a lot to say," said friend Dougie Henderson.

That can sometimes get the voluble White into trouble.

"The two things that really make people upset are politics and religion," he says.

"I do get myself into trouble sometimes with the things I say.

"I keep thinking that it might hurt business, but so far it hasn't."

White says political discussions in Hay River are nowhere near as impassioned as they are in his native province, Newfoundland and Labrador.

"Now back there, you can have some major arguments."

White says the main reason for the difference is the North's consensus style of government.

"When you have a party with a leader, it gives everyone somebody to blame for what's going wrong. Up here you can't do that."

Some of the conversation in White's barber shop seems like it could have been penned by Chris Carter, the conspiracy theory junkie behind the TV show X-Files.

Clients expound on various theories from why the town has only one grocery store to why the government won't allow gambling in the North.

Most of what was said would be grounds for libel if ever put down in print.

"Everybody has a theory," said White.

But there's more to White's barber shop than gossip. He's created what must be the only advance poll in town.

Every four years, in the days leading up to a municipal election, White asks his customers for their picks for mayor and town council. And while it may not be as scientific as an Angus-Reid/CTV poll, it is remarkably accurate.

Perfect predictions

"You know, I've known the outcome of the last two elections days before they even happened," said White."I haven't been wrong yet."

In preparation for November's municipal election, White plans to make some changes to the polling process.

"I'm going to build a ballot box this year and get people to write down their choices," he said.

"Then I'll see if those results match the election results."

Even with his daughter coming up from Alberta to work in his shop, White doesn't plan to stop talking about politics while cutting hair.

"Talking with people is the best part of the business," he says. "And besides, up here people forget about arguments really quickly."