The gloves came off last week as hockey hall-of-famer and Liberal MP Ken Dryden paid a visit to the Rainy River District, speaking out against the Conservative government, and explaining why his party is looking towards another federal election.
“[Harper] is not good enough. This isn’t good enough, this isn’t good enough for this country,” Dryden said about the current political situation when speaking with local media Friday morning, a reiteration of the message he had for those fans and supporters he met with the evening before at a Liberal Party fundraising BBQ at Little Beaver Snow Park, hosted by former Liberal MP for Thunder Bay-Rainy River Ken Boshcoff.
The visit to the area came as Dryden—who served as Minister of Social Development under Paul Martin and currently is the Liberal Party’s National Outreach Advisor, Poverty and Working Families—has spent the past few weeks traveling to communities across Northern Ontario, and hosting roundtables with community leaders on poverty.
At this point in time, another minority government is inevitable, Dryden admitted, attributing this to both main political parities being in “fairly strong shape” and what the polls are saying.
But this is not a reason to avoid an election, he stressed.
“It is not being in a minority that defines the nature of the direction in which a government goes,” he explained, emphasizing that it’s the elected party who defines the nature of the government—all while placing the blame of the current state of minority government on the Harper government itself.
“I can tell you exactly how you don’t make a minority government work and that’s exactly the way Mr. Harper has operated a minority government,” Dryden asserted. “Essentially he has said ‘Okay parliament, you have a choice: you can support me, or you can bring me down. Go ahead. I dare you. Bring me down’”
“That’s not governing, that’s campaigning. That’s campaigning to generate a next election where you hope you will become a majority.”
Parliament cannot work under those sort of circumstances, Dryden stressed, adding that sets the opposition parties up to “be trashed” for looking weak when they end up supporting the government to avoid an election that the public doesn’t want.
“Mr. Harper has not once in three and a half years demonstrated a capacity, a willingness, an instinct, an attitude, an aptitude to work with others. That is not his way, it’s not his style, it’s not his identity, it’s not his pride and you know it, and everyone else knows it.”
“You cannot make a minority government function as a governing entity if that is your attitude. And that is what we are facing in the indefinite future,” he said.
With a minority government expected—whether an election is held six weeks, six months or six years from now—the question is which party has the capacity to govern within a minority government, Dryden stated, something he believes the Liberal party has the capacity to do, unlike the Conservatives.
This comes from approaching governance with the understanding that it is a minority government, Dryden said, not the Conservative’s “My way or the highway” approach.
“We’re going to find a way of dealing in whatever that way is, “ Dryden stated about what a Liberal Minority government would mean.
“Whether it’s informal arrangements, whether it’s tone or attitude, you can do it in all kinds of different ways,” he said, although he declined to comment on whether or not this would mean a coalition with the NDP.
“Whatever the Liberals end up doing and however little the Liberals end up doing that way, it would be dimensions more than the Conservatives,” he stressed.
Dryden objected to the Liberals being referred to as a “government in waiting,” instead preferring to be called a “government in the preparing,” pointing to the roundtables he has been holding on poverty as he travels throughout the region with local municipalities and organizations.
“There’s sort of a formula way of doing roundtables,” said Dryden, explaining this formula is to identify an issue, inviting stakeholders from the community, putting everyone in the same room around a table for approximately an hour so each group can have their say, and then those like himself from the outside taking their messages back with them.
“That works to some extent, but I think it generates a kind of frustration also for everybody who is in the room,” he said, adding that many participants don’t see anything visible coming from the roundtables.
Dryden has changed this “formula” for his roundtables—after a brief introductions, those present are asked to function as if they were a cabinet just elected yesterday on a campaign promise—in this case to significantly reduce poverty.
For two hours the group will meet, with the idea that once their time is up, they’ll open up the doors to the public and media who will be waiting to hear what the cabinet’s plan is to keep their campaign promise.
“It sort of creates a different dynamic and a challenging one, but challenging for everybody and appropriately challenging,” Dryden explained, noting that many of these roundtables means organizations expand from simply representing their own interests towards working together to establish community priorities.
“One of the most common things in it, is—they’ll start out with something like housing, and they’ll go through sort of a series of issues, and then it usually happens about halfway through, where somebody will say ‘Yeah, but you know, its really just not the issues, it’s demonstrating that in fact we’re serious this time. So what we need is a Minister for Poverty, or we need a cabinet committee, and we don’t even just need that, we need somebody that has a demonstrable voice, an incredible voice.’” Dryden noted about what he has seen with these roundtables so far, explaining that it moves from “what” needs to be done, to the “how.”
Meanwhile, the Liberal Party’s move to bring down the Conservative government is a bid to stop playing the Conservative party’s “game” that will otherwise go on indefinitely, Dryden argued.
“Let’s get on to the purpose of the whole thing. And the purpose of the whole thing is not just politics,” Dryden stated, attacking the Conservative’s record as a government, including “just riding out” the recession.
“We’re not going back to where we were before the recession happened. The world isn’t going back to where it was before the recession happened,” Dryden charged. “Too many things have happened economically to change the situation to go back to where things nicely were before the recession was.”
“You need to be more than a passive passenger on riding out of a recession,” he continued. “You need to start to govern a bit in terms of what this country needs to be coming out of a recession, for the economy of the future, for the world of the future, and so that riding the coattails of whatever happens isn’t good enough.”
If it was 20 years ago—with the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives of that time period vying for power—Dryden said that although parties would insist they were dramatically different, Canadians wouldn’t notice much of a difference between the parties depending on who was governing.
“I don’t think that’s the case now,” he stressed. “I think that the Conservatives, they’re directions are significantly different than the past Liberal government would have been, and that the future Liberal government would be.”