Ken Dryden: Becoming Canada

Becoming Canada by Ken Dryden, McLelland Stewart, 2010, 238 pp.

Ken Dryden, the Liberal MP and former hockey great has once again shown his true colours as a serious citizen. In the Liberal leadership race Ken lacked the royal jelly to connect with the citizenry at large  but nevertheless he has thought deeply about the future of the country and in this book he has  put forth a clarion call for the heart of Canada. His book is Becoming Canada. The gerund Becoming is the key word here. For Dryden we are stuck—between the liberal values and social justice concerns of the natural governing party, the Liberals and the Canada that Stepen Harper is attempting to make over.

One does not know where to go on the way Harper is trying to change Canada.The latest bizarre move to spend $16 billion on 65 new F-35 stealth fighter jets is just one example of our stunning move away from peacekeeping to a pathetic simulacrum of the nation Harper loves, the USA. To spend an eye-popping $490 billion over the next 20 years on the military at this time in history not only flies in the face of our domestic needs but attempts to turn us into Pentagon North. Where will the money for Canada’s real needs come from—Public health care? Child poverty? Fighting global warming? A Natioal Day Care Plan? Money to subsidize the only North American public transit Toronto’s TTC?The shocking debacle of the G-20?

Dryden begins in America with Obama asking people—Iraq War? torture? No Health care for 45 million in the richest country on earth? The biggest gap between the rich and the poor in our history? Is this who we are? Is this our national dream—bigger cars, rampant diabetes? Obesity of body? Is this really us? No we are better than this.the people obviously bought in. Yes, we are better than this.

His chapter on Copenhagen follows. 12 years after Kyoto—9/11, Katrina, wars in Iraq and Aghanistan…and time for the dramatic reality of climate change to sink in, to move from “our selfish selves towards our generous best selves.”But nothing happened!

For Dryden, this can not go on. Faced with history’s greatest physical and moral challenge, we must do better.We are humans, not powerrless. Seeing what is wrong is not enough.Or for that matter  seeing what is right. Or opting out and becoming an ironic bystander. Trying harder is not enough.We need Purpose.The young and the old have embraced the Planet and Environmentalism as their dominant story.

It is this need  to believe, the need to take on the imporant matters, the need to find meaning and purpose, the need to come together on something more important than ourselves that is now driving the people of the Planet toward something more purposeful than money. And this new drive is giving the world a chance in a time of climate change.”

In other words it is a time for Purpose, not politics. And this is where Stephen Harper enters—Harper with his cynical mastery of the small game, politics.Here is the Prime Minister who famously said  “Canada appears content to become a second-tier socialistic country, boasting ever more loudly about its economy and social services to mask its second-rate status.” And told us in 1997 “It’s past time the feds scrapped the Canada Health Act.” And to go ahead and support the Iraq war:

“Thank you for saying to our friends in the United States of America, you are our ally, our neighbour, and our best friend in the whole wide world. And when your brave men and women give their lives for freedom and democracy we are not neutral. We do not stand on the sidelines; we’re for the disarmament of Saddam and the liberation of the people of Iraq.”- Stephen Harper, Friends of America Rally, April 4, 2003.

Up close Dryden has watched Harper’s smallness of vision.”He doesn’t talk about the country itself and what we might be…to him setting the bar at four and hitting a four is a success; setting it at eight and hitting a seven is a failure…it doesn’t matter to Harper that  dreaming dreams has also produced medicare, old age penssions, a national railway system, peacekeeping and a Charter of Freedoms.”

Why did incurious Harper never leave Canada to travel?

For Kenny Dryden Harper “does small and spins big.” He chips away brick by brick at what made Canada great. He  goes negative and mocks Ignatieff for going beyond canada and spending time away.Dryden say the Liberals shoild have turned that on its head: “What about Harper staying, about never leaving the shores of  North America before he became leader of the Conservative Party in 2004 For the first 45 years of his life! Harper never was one of those “backpackers who wanted to see and learn and come back changed \with new energy, new appreciations new understandings of Canada…why this monumental incuriosity? Why did he never leave?”

Dryden acknowleges Harper’s mastery of “Games” but games are not enough.He has been calling Iggy’s bluff: Do you have a vision for this country?

And that is what his book is about.Politics, presently played is making us sick.”We don’t believe we can do what we must do—reduce poverty,reverse climate change, transform our carbon economy.” Just focusing on politics where Harper is master will not be enough.”We cannot fix politics by playing politics.”

Around the world people are now asking Where is Canada? People who know better know we have become America lite defaulting on the differences which made us great. Years ago we would have been a lock for a Security Council seat but our stunningly obtuse support of every move of Israel has totally isolated us in the huge Muslim world. Where has Canada gone?

The Liberals hoping to redefine themselves met in Montreal and were stunned into silence when our former ambassador to the UN spoke truth to the Liberal elite. While critical of the Harper government he asked about the alternative:”It seems the Liberals today don’t stand for much.”

And that is Ken Dryden’s dilemma and sorrow.

“Politics takes over when there is no ther big story around.”

Where is the Canada we need and must have? Why are we settling for America lite…and Stephen Harper with his small politics and big spin.

And what can the Liberal Party add today?


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