Tuesday, May 02, 2006

John Ivison on Dryden in the NP

Dryden is very much in the game
Don't be surprised to find the former goalie coming up the middle
John Ivison
National Post

Conventional wisdom has it that Ken Dryden will never be leader of the Liberal party because he's too dull, too decent and can't speak French. At the same time as Gerard Kennedy's star went supernova, Mr. Dryden's appeared to fall to earth, as the hockey legend dithered over whether to run and his potential support ebbed away.

However, students of recent Canadian political history know that the conventional wisdom is an ass, with the predictive powers of the man from Decca Records who rejected the Beatles because "guitar music is on the way out."

At close quarters over a swordfish lunch, Mr. Dryden leaves the very distinct impression that here is a man who could be prime minister -- unlike all but two or three of the other contenders in the leadership race.

While he can get bogged down with lengthy and faintly ridiculous analogies of his world view, it should be remembered that if he wins, his opponent will be Stephen Harper, not Bill Clinton. This next election will not be about charisma, it will be about integrity, intelligence and the vision of Canada that most closely corresponds to that of its people.

The conventional wisdom also suggests that the Conservatives will cruise through the next election and that the Liberals best hope is still six or seven years hence, by which time Mr. Dryden will be eligible for a cheap bus pass. Unsurprisingly, this is not a consensus the man himself adheres to. The Liberals' negative tactics during the last election allowed Mr. Harper to portray himself as the only candidate offering a hopeful, positive vision for the future. Mr. Dryden has (and had) no time for these tactics and is likely to stress Canada needs to think big and fulfill its potential.

As one Liberal, who is not necessarily a Dryden supporter, put it: "In person, before a small group, he is passionate and totally without ego. His heartfelt stuff about students and early childhood goes down well with women. He looks right at you and never -- unlike Michael Ignatieff -- seems to be looking sideways at the next person he will have to greet. There is substance here -- his problem is how to get it out on television."

It would be a fair criticism to suggest there is more than a touch of Paul Martin about the former goalie. For one thing, he seems to have the same classic Liberal tendency of appreciating all sides of an argument, which is not a recipe for decision-making. For another, he doesn't think the Liberal party requires root and branch reform, which must be slightly worrying for his supporters.

But none of his rivals should mistake that soft-spoken, thoughtful demeanour for naivete or lack of competitive edge. His eyes tend to fire at the suggestion he is not cut out for the political game, prompting the observation that he has taken part in -- and won -- more competitions than the rest of the field combined.

He is also unconcerned about his level of support in Quebec, which makes sense when you consider he was the goaltender for the team that brought that hockey-mad province six Stanley Cups in the 1970s. Delegates attending the Montreal leadership convention in December will clearly have one eye on what will sell in a general election -- and Ken Dryden will sell in Quebec. Even if his French is less than fluent, Mr. Dryden's name is not just known in the province, it is revered.

All of which makes it surprising that Mr. Dryden is now well down the list of most pundits, with one blogger placing him in seventh place out of the 10 declared candidates. That ranking ignores the benefit of being a man who is not considered particularly offensive by anyone in the field. Even though he was a favourite of Paul Martin's, and identified very early on by the former prime minister as a potential successor, Mr. Dryden has avoided being linked too closely with any particular faction. If he survives the initial ballots, he is well positioned to come through the middle and become the consensus candidate.


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