Okay, just where is Gerard Kennedy these days?
The one-time Daily Bread Food Bank’s media-darling-turned-education-minister, Lib federal leadership candidate and, at last count, kingmaker for Stéphane Dion at the federal Lib convention in 2006, has been curiously invisible at the oddest times.
There’s speculation that this may be connected to the Lib leader’s flame-out. For politicians, media attention is oxygen, so it is strange that, while other leadership wannabes Martha Hall Findlay and Bob Rae logged significant airtime before being elected to seats in the House of Commons, Kennedy has gone from being arguably the highest-profile Toronto Liberal to Gerard Who?
Given the current climate that has political junkies predicting when this government will fall and then revising said predictions every hour, low profiles come at high prices – especially since Kennedy plans to run in Parkdale-High Park, his former provincial riding now held federally by very popular NDPer Peggy Nash.
While she’s been scoring points raging against the sell-off of Canadian satellite technology to a U.S. company, politics 101 suggests that Kennedy – who hasn’t updated his website since last May – ought to be out there, too, reminding voters he’s still game.
But is he?
“I guess I should do a better job keeping people informed,” says Kennedy, currently a visiting prof at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management, citing party functions and policy meetings he’s been involved in, not to mention his new post as intergovernmental affairs critic in Dion’s shadow cabinet.
“There’s been no effort not to be visible, but we don’t all have to be in the public all the time,” he says.
Still, it seems like a strikingly casual approach for someone with national leadership ambitions and a local dogfight on his hands. Even Rae, who coasted to victory a month ago in Toronto Centre, seemed to be just about everywhere for several months before the by-election was even called.
“This is a long prelude to an election,” says Kennedy. “You can’t have volunteers out there for a year campaigning. Everyone has to earn a living.” Including him.
Former Chretien adviser and Liberal blogger-about-town Warren Kinsella says Kennedy is in a bit of a netherworld right now. “It is a challenging time. You’ve got to put bread on the table. Most thought there’d be an election this spring.”
But he says Kennedy is very focused on the riding. He tells me that one night in the middle of one of this winter’s dreadful snowstorms (wasn’t that most nights?), he ran into Kennedy canvassing.
“There he was knocking on doors on this freezing cold night,” he says. “I think there i’s a sense that he needs to make sure he’s got the riding covered and worry about national exposure later.”
If that sounds counterintuitive – after all, the air campaigns raise a candidate’s local profile – that’s fine with Nash’s people.
“Most candidates, whether they’re in an election or not, are always out there canvassing,” says Nash volunteer Brian McInnis.
“But we don’t see any evidence of him or his team out there. There’s no tactic in the political black book where this makes sense.”
Political insiders in Ottawa say they haven’t seen much of him there either. “He hasn’t been around at all lately. He’s been nearly invisible,” says one. “He was supposed to be working on election preparedness and looking for new candidates, and that has not worked out at all.”
While a candidate’s success at the local level depends on how the leader is performing, U of T politics prof Nelson Wiseman says Kennedy has a lock on Parkdale-High Park even if Dion ultimately bombs.
“He won huge landslides at the provincial level,” he says. “And if the Liberals win the election, he will have a senior cabinet position. How could he not? Dion owes him big time.’’
Kennedy shrugs off the suggestion that he’s in self-imposed exile as a result of making the wrong guy king.
“I’m happy to be accountable in helping Stéphane Dion become leader,” he says.