Sunday, May 21, 2006

One on One with Ken Dryden

I got a chance to sit down with Ken Dryden for an interview when he was in town earlier this month. After being kidded by Michael Ignatieff for my lack of a technology, I came armed with my brand new mini tape recorder. So, in his own words, here is what Ken Dryden had to say about everything from Reggie Leach to the state of the Liberal Party:

For the sake of my Calgary readers, I feel I must ask you this: what the hell went wrong with the Flames this year?

I get so little chance to see games, I don’t know. When you have a goalie like Kiprusoff, you know you’re going to be in it – you know you’re not going to be more than a goal behind. I didn’t follow it closely, and I gather they had trouble scoring this year. I see the highlights but the highlights only tell you so much – you can’t see the pattern of the game, you can’t see what’s going right and what’s going wrong.

On that same theme, you’re seen as “the hockey candidate” to many. And you’ve played this up yourself with hockey cards at the LPC(O) convention and by going on HNiC the night you declared. Is there a fear that Ken Dryden the all-star goalie will overshadow Ken Dryden the politician in this race?

The odd part is that when I was playing hockey, I was a person who wasn’t just a hockey player. There were lots of goalies but there weren’t many goalies who went to law school and worked for Ralph Nader, so people understood me in hockey as somebody “outside of hockey”. When you play in the NHL for as long as I did, people get to know you and they don’t stop knowing you because you stop playing hockey. People will always connect with what they know best. I wouldn’t say people know me as a hockey player but rather they know me through being a hockey player and that’s a different thing.

They see you let in a goal from centre ice, they see you in a terrific moment, they see how you handle things - they get to know you seeing you do something. They expect you as a politician to be the person they came to know 30 years ago.

You’ve developed a reputation for being a bit wordy. So, to practice, I’d like to hear the quick sound byte answer to the following question: Why did the Liberal Party lose the last election?

Because when you’re a government that long and you get battered day after day, you start to lose confidence in yourself and you start to not be so certain of what you believe in. You’re not sure of the things that made you so proud and how you got there.

After the election you observed that it’s “only when you lose that you start to learn.” What can the LPC learn from the last election?

The first part is that you win an election, you don’t get the other guy to lose it. We have to earn our way back, find the coherent story that is us and offer it to the public. The public is waiting for it, they were waiting for it the last election and they waited until time ran out. It’s up to us to come back and present it to them.

When a hockey team’s season ends, they must decide if they’re going to tinker with the roster or do a massive rebuilding. What kind of shape is the LPC in? Is it just a matter of picking a new face and refining policy, or does the party need a dramatic philosophical shift?

I think it’s between your extremes. A massive rebuilding never really happens; you’re always taking what you’ve got. A lot of what’s there is strong - we’re a party that’s always been really successful. The question is what are the other things that aren’t.

Part of it is that this party needs to broaden itself. In terms of ideas, it has the broadest base of support across the country, but it has the narrowest funding and the narrowest power base. That’s something that needs to move along with everything else that happens. You have leadership which is the big exposure before the next election but these other things need to happen and they don’t stop on December the 3rd. They’re ongoing.

The other thing is the policy process because that’s where any party’s energy comes from. It’s what you believe in common, why it matters to you and why you feel strongly about it. That’s the on-going process. If you start to run short there, the whole energy of the party passes on down.

You’ve talked about “Big Canada”. Obviously child care is a part of that but what other national programs fit into the “Big Canada” theme?

The central part is the understanding of ourselves. Businesses talk about having the right culture and teams talk about having the right tradition. But what’s the right story for this country? It starts that we’re in an immensely successful place and we didn’t get there for no reason. We have all the bases to be even more successful in the future. If you don’t understand that, you set your ceilings way too low.

Our biggest achievement is probably that we’re a live and let live country and there’s probably not one other in the world that is that way so much as we are. In a global world that’s the way you need to function if you’re going to be successful. We lived it out with the early French and English experiences. That’s why our multicultural society works. It’s an important base for us to take on our future.

The blogs have been talking a lot about some comments made by Bob Rae at the LPC(O) convention. Do you see anything wrong with Bob Rae comparing the softwood agreement to the Munich Pact?

I was beside him when he said it and I’m not sure if that was the exact nature of his comments. He did talk about Chamberlain and how the appearance at one moment may not be the reality later. I’m not so sure that he wasn’t just questioning the impact of the softwood deal. But I don’t know if he’d come to the final conclusion that this deal was as misguided as Munich.

When the CBC ran their “Greatest Canadian” series last year, Tommy Douglas came out on top. A pair of hockey people, Wayne Gretzky and Don Cherry, cracked the top 10. Who do you think is the Greatest Canadian?

(huge pause) Obviously, it’s who’s had the biggest impact on how we live and if he or she hadn’t existed, that would be the biggest change. Hmm…let me come back to that one at the end.

Finally, who is the most difficult right winger you’ve face in hockey, and in politics?

The first one that comes to mind in hockey was Reggie Leach. He killed me, he just seemed to score at will. The worst part about it was that I knew exactly what he was going to do and he knew that I knew what he was going to do. But there was no way I’d cheat on him or move ahead of his shot because I was sure the next time I’d be quick enough to stop him, and I never was.

Now, in terms of politicians…I think it is Stephen Harper. The other voices are voices that moment to moment you have trouble with but Stephen Harper is the one who sets the tone and carries the day. The tone that he sets and the day that he carries, to me, is the converse of what we talked about before with a Big Canada. His understanding of the country is not mine at all. This is a place where we have benefited greatly from big national endeavors and there is a big future role for Canada in Canada, and I don’t think that’s how he sees the country.

Now…the greatest Canadian…

The key is, if Tommy Douglas hadn’t done what Tommy Douglas did, would there have been a Tommy Douglas who would have come pretty quickly thereafter? I think probably yes. The achievement may well be our greatest national achievement but I’m not sure that that makes him the greatest Canadian.

It’s funny because usually you get a question about who would you want to meet and I’m much more comfortable with that answer. I’d want to meet somebody of another time who lived an average life to find out what that average life in another time was like. Tell me about your day to day? When you wake up? What you imagine for your kids? What about your parents? How do you imagine your own future? What are those things that give you your biggest satisfaction and worry you the most? Because I’m not going to understand 1880 unless I understand you.

Somebody who lives the special life of any time is disconnected from life at that time. You only get the highlights - it’s just like getting the 11 o’clock sports highlights.

I am going to ask you this question: Who do you think it is?

CG: I voted for Trudeau because I’m a big fan. But I think you could make a strong case for Terry Fox on the inspirational side. And Banting obviously accomplished a lot for the world.

Actually, I hadn’t thought of Terry Fox. I think that was such an unbelievable achievement. I remember when he started we were living in Ottawa and when he stopped in Thunder Bay, we were living in England for a year. And it was a tiny little note in the International Herald Tribune that Terry Fox had stopped in Thunder Bay because of a recurrence of his cancer. A tiny little story.

I thought: that is unfair, that is just utterly unfair. Things happen to everybody but that’s not just. When you think of the Terry Fox stories that are told today, there’s nobody from 25 years ago who is referred to as often.

After the interview, we talked a lot about the campaign and he really turned the tables asking me a lot of questions. You really do get the sense that he is genuinely interested in listening to people and talking to them. It must drive his handlers who are trying to keep him on schedule insane.

As for his candidacy, in a perfect world, Ken Dryden is the sort of man who should be Prime Minister. I don’t think I know of any individual who has given as much thought to what it means to be Canadian, how Canada works, and where the country should be taken. Could he win an election? Could he handle the cynical partisan nature of politics if he did become party leader? Does he have the neccesary political experience? It’s hard to say. But the Liberal Party is certainly a lot richer by having him in the race and he would probably be one of Canada’s most intriguing party leaders in a long time if he did win.


  • Good job, Bart. Great interview.

    By Blogger George, at 8:08 p.m.  

  • You should have asked him if the Liberal party is so great, why did he approach Elsie Wayne about running for leader of the PC party.

    By Blogger nuna d. above, at 8:43 p.m.  

  • Kudos. Great interview.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:54 p.m.  

  • That is really cool. So how did you do the tape recorder thing? Did you play it back and type or is it one of those high-tech things that transcribe it for you?

    By Blogger Joanne (True Blue), at 8:57 p.m.  

  • Digital tape recorder. Played it back and transcribed it, making a few little changes here or there to clean it up. But Ken was actually very well spoken so I hardly had to edit anything at all.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:09 p.m.  

  • "Finally, who is the most difficult right winger you’ve face in hockey, and in politics?

    Lol - nice job.

    By Blogger WE Speak, at 9:40 p.m.  

  • I've always thought Dryden was a nice guy. Sadly, we all know where they end up...

    By Blogger Red Tory, at 9:41 p.m.  

  • It will be interesting to see how Dryden fares. I think he learned a lot being president of MLSE. That may sound like faint praise, but it's an intensely political environment. I don't think he'll win, but I also wouldn't underestimate him, nice guy or not. Regardless of the result, he will be in a very good position after the race is decided.

    By Blogger WeeDram, at 9:50 p.m.  

  • Great interview, underwhelming response...

    By Blogger K-Dough, at 10:26 p.m.  

  • Funny, a "big Canada" with big national projects isn't my Canada. I don't want a massive federal government intruding on my life, forcing me to pay increased taxes to pay for bloated inefficeint programs that serve no one but bureaucrats and unions.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:44 p.m.  

  • When average joe talks about big national projects they usually mean things like:
    Trans-Canada Railway
    St Lawerance Seaway project
    The nations response to WWII

    They don't mean intrusive federal government programs like National Daycare, Gun Registry, and every other thing under the sun to take away responsibility from the common man and woman.
    Until Mr. Dryden and the rest of the LPC figures this out, they may be in opposition for a long time

    By Blogger D.M.M., at 11:12 p.m.  

  • Ken has never been anything less than a class act. Longwinded throughout the years. Never dishonest. Never uninterested. Never insincere.

    Great Interview Calgary Grit!


    By Blogger Peter, at 11:34 p.m.  

  • Bart

    Terrific interview.
    You did a great job and he did as well.
    I mean c'mon this is Ken Dryden.
    He is truly eligible for being in that greatest Canadian list.
    He is certainly one of the most accomplished Canadians of his or even any generations.
    I would never underestimate him at anything he does.
    Writer, athlete, business leader, lawyer, all at the highest level.
    He is certainly an ornament to the Liberal party.

    But Bart, did he actually answer the greatest Canadian question??

    By Blogger Aristo, at 12:54 a.m.  

  • Good questions. Good interview.

    While I'm a Rae supporter, I was still interested to see what Dryden would do, what depth does he have, can he think on his feet.

    I don't think those are cynical aspects of politics, any more than articulating a vision or connecting with voters diminishes someone.

    The interview demonstrates an interesting and thoughtful individual.

    In the end, however, I really would expect better of someone who is ready to take on Stephen Harper or re-invent the party.

    By Blogger Mr. Knightley, at 2:33 a.m.  

  • BTW, a mini 'tape' recorder is your idea of new tech? Let me guess, you've still got an 8 track player in the basement, don't you?

    By Blogger WE Speak, at 3:32 a.m.  

  • Nice work, CG.

    It's really great that blogs are getting a nod to their legitimacy like this. And I envy the hell out of you getting to sit down and talk with these guys one and one.

    Sucks that you didn't get more time.

    By Blogger Mike Gillis, at 5:49 a.m.  

  • Calgary Grit, thanks for the info.

    BBS - It beats a notebook and pen! Actually I have one of those digital recorders, but still trying to figure the darn thing out.

    By Blogger Joanne (True Blue), at 6:10 a.m.  

  • aristo; My sense was that he would go with Terry Fox for the Greatest Canadian question.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 12:06 p.m.  

  • Great interview!

    This man, Ken Dryden, is the perfect example of everything good with the Liberal Party. He is emblematic of the typical member -- honest, sincere, genuine, thoughtful, a great deal of integrity and, most importantly, loves to be Canadian, learn about Canada and Canadians, and is dedicated to making this country even better.

    After being scrutinzed for the past several years as a Liberal -- being assumed to be "corrupt", it's nice to finally have the possibility of being able to defeat those notions with Ken Dryden as leader.

    Once people stop thinking we're all "corrupt" and they see a leader with unquestionable integrity, many people will come back to us and many more wil start listening to us again. That's half the battle.

    The other half is, like Ken said, broadening our base in terms of membership, policy and fundraising. He's the only candidate I've heard say anything about that and I agree with him wholeheartedly.

    The man asks questions because he truly cares and he wants to learn. How can any politician say they know what Canadians want if they never ask? If they never listen? Most politicians will sit at a table with you and tell you what they think, but Ken Dryden seems to want to know what you think. He wants to engage the grassroots and non-Liberals. That's the other half of the battle.

    The guy isn't perfect but, let's face it, everyone in this race has hge flaws. But let's also remember that a man that no one ever thought would be Prime Minister because he had no personality and no passion is now sitting in 24 Sussex Drive.

    By Blogger MPM, at 12:33 p.m.  

  • Ken Dryden has massive second ballot support. Perhaps the deciding factor in this race. Otheres may have more first ballot support but after that they have little attraction.

    Just watch him move up the ranks as the voting rounds continue. He is liked by all, which will be better than loved by some and hated by everyone else.

    Even for after the leadership convention it would be best to have a candidae that ALL Liberals can be happy with, not just some.

    By Blogger S.K., at 1:26 p.m.  

  • Thanks for this and great job on the interview.

    I'm catching up here and this was a great opportunity for me to learn about Dryden. I have liked him and now like him more.

    But all this talk of the politicians wanting to hear what Canadians my lifetime, I've heard that a lot. The problem, however, is that once they've heard us they still end up doing what THEY want for their political career. So what I need to know about Dryden is this - what is his record on keeping his word? effecting improvement? honouring Canadians desires and needs? That's what I want to hear from Liberals.

    If you know any of that CG or can point me to where it's recorded, I'd be grateful.

    By Blogger noone, at 4:57 p.m.  

  • I really hope you get a Joe Volpe interview!

    By Blogger polarslam, at 5:00 p.m.  

  • Excellent content.

    My editorial comment: historically, "Big Canada" projects have had the ironic result of ultimate regionalizing the country (n.b. I consider healthcare being chimeric, counting neither for nor against that proposition).

    I discount the railways, obviously: a ribbon of steel is not the same as a political institution. And the Canada of 1873 was a different beast than the one Dryden invokes today.

    By Blogger matt, at 5:09 p.m.  

  • That was really interesting. He's a well spoken man. Not usually passionate enough when he's speaking, but clearly an intelligent, thoughtful person... and that came out here. Not a phoney, at least not from the interview anyway.

    By Blogger Shawn, at 6:36 p.m.  

  • Great interview, Calgary Grit! Just goes to show why so many people simply love this man. I was at a party in Old Montreal on Saturday and when I mentioned my support for Ken, people went crazy. He is so popular in Quebec - a truly national treasure.

    By Blogger Sinestra, at 6:33 a.m.  

  • Carrie -- he has a relatively brief political career so he does not have a long record. That said, his constituents re-elected him in 2006 so he must have kept his word to them.

    More importantly, after the Liberals failed to step up to the plate to deliver child-care, Dryden did it in 18 months. Obviously, he did not do it himself but he was the driving force. He stuck to his guns on how it should get done and what it should look like because he thought it was the best way, despite pressure from lobby groups, etc. to go a different way.

    Those in the early learning and child-care sector, traditionally, NDPers, revere Dryden for his efforts and effectiveness.

    By Blogger MPM, at 12:08 p.m.  

  • Outstanding piece of blogging and congrats on the mention in todays Toronto Sun. (ok so it is not the New York Times - it is still a great day for blogging when one of us is mentioned as a 'must read')

    Dryden is indeed the 3rd or 4th ballot favorite in my mind. There will be an 'anyone but_______" campaign for Rae and ignatieff at some point and that bodes well for the Ken-ster.

    Read our post "Bevilacqua The King Maker" at, where we develop a late ballot victory scenario for Ken Dryden.

    By Blogger Arnone and Co., at 2:16 p.m.  

  • "historically, "Big Canada" projects have had the ironic result of ultimate regionalizing the country..."

    Matt - what cases-in-point are you thinking of? If pressed for a list of "Big Canada" projects I would cite the railway, which you did, but exempted as 'different,' as well as:
    > populating the Prairies (arguably part of the 'railway' project, I guess)
    > Trans Canada Highway
    > St Lawrence Seaway
    > TransCanada Pipeline
    > mobilization for both World Wars, and rapid industrialization for the Second World War

    We have had some other reasonably good ideas over the years, but not much that was intended to "expand Canada" or provide nationwide benefits (I'm thinking of tangible benefits, not the intangible satisfaction of having a Charter of Rights and Freedoms or a national pension plan). As well, we have had lots of things (port and airport expansion, for a couple) that benefited particular regions, and I will grant that not all of these have been equitably allocated across the country. On the "Big Canada" projects, though, I don't see how you would conclude that they have regionalized the country. Are we looking at a different set of projects?

    By Blogger deaner, at 3:03 p.m.  

  • Ken Dryden unfortunately does not have a clue about how to equally benefit all Canadians. He plays favorites with kids, especially if they are in daycare. He seems to think running the country is like running a hockey team- defeating the opposition, and putting down any who don't agree with his plans. He would be wise to realize that a fair governnment is not out to defeat people but to benefit all people, even minorities and even gasp, believe it or not, all children equally.

    Also, yes he is wordy. But then a lot of us are. That itself is not a fault if the words mean something other than air.

    By Blogger Beverley Smith, at 6:34 p.m.  

  • Ken Dryden unfortunately does not have a clue about how to equally benefit all Canadians. He plays favorites with kids, especially if they are in daycare. He seems to think running the country is like running a hockey team- defeating the opposition, and putting down any who don't agree with his plans. He would be wise to realize that a fair governnment is not out to defeat people but to benefit all people, even minorities and even gasp, believe it or not, all children equally.

    Also, yes he is wordy. But then a lot of us are. That itself is not a fault if the words mean something other than air.

    By Blogger Beverley Smith, at 6:34 p.m.  

  • Dryden only likes daycare kids. He apparently thinks all other kids are part of the opposing team he must crush.
    Sad, that

    By Blogger Beverley Smith, at 6:35 p.m.  

  • MPM, thanks for that. Good point.

    However, seems Bev has a point too.

    I'll have to get to know Dryden better I think before deciding. But so far, yes, he's rather impressive.

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  • Great Interview.

    How did you do the tape recorder thing?

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