Most Canadians have gotten used to being embarrassed by our politicians over the years, be it at the federal, provincial or municipal level.
However, unlike most Canadians, I occasionally find myself in the unique position of being personally embarrassed by them.
You see, I’m a goaltender and, due to the expensive equipment and the inherent, not-for-everyone nature of playing net, goalies are always in high demand. This is why I sometimes find myself rubbing shoulder pads with politicos, minor celebrities and better-paid fellow media types at VIP-themed hockey games/fundraising events where I otherwise probably wouldn’t be invited. Turns out they have just as hard a time finding goalies as beer leagues do.
As a result, I’ve had a chance to play a little ball hockey with Mayor Gregor Robertson a couple of times now, most recently at Vancouver’s 125th birthday celebrations at Jack Poole Plaza.
It probably won’t come as a surprise to hear that our juice-swilling, bicycle-riding, mid-forties mayor has some decent hockey skills, and it made me think of what an unfair advantage this must give to a Canadian politician.
Shaking hands and kissing babies is all well and good, but this is a country that very nearly voted Don Cherry as our Greatest Canadian, a win that would’ve knocked and socked our international rep almost as badly as the seal hunt and Nickelback combined if anyone outside the country had the slightest clue who he is.
If you can put a puck in the net, you can probably count on a few votes because of it.
I still cringe when I think of poor Stéphane Dion trying to put a ball past some kid in Ottawa while campaigning in 2008. I remember thinking while watching him fail over and over and over to score that there was no way Canadians would ever vote this man to be the next prime minister, no matter how smart or accomplished he might be.
Even worse, when Dion finally managed to put one in, he raised his arms in triumph and ran around celebrating like it was in overtime of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. It was a true Dukakis in the tank moment.
The Conservatives, of course, milked the footage for all it was worth, and Stephen Harper clearly is more at ease with a stick in his hands considering he was out playing with some kids last week while campaigning. He’s also been reminding us for years that he’s working on a book about hockey and has even tried to cash in on our love of the game by showing footage of the 1972 Summit Series in a Tory campaign ad. (This could, of course, easily backfire given that it might also remind voters that it was Liberal MP Ken Dryden who backstopped Team Canada to the win, a man who has already written a well-respected book about the sport.)
Robertson, for his part, plays with adults rather than just children and it has to be said that he carries himself well on the court. Case in point, he often passes to teammates even when he has a clear shot and is by no means a goal suck. And while the games are always no-contact, he doesn’t let himself get pushed around when some of his more enthusiastic constituents sometimes forget this.
When I managed to somehow stop what should’ve been an easy tap-in for him on Wednesday, he gave me a “you-robbed-me” grin and later, when Five Hole for Food founder Richard Loat put a beautiful backhander past me, His Honour gave me a sympathetic tap to the pads.
And when he scores, he doesn’t pull a Dion. Spectators/voters notice this sort of thing.
The jaded journalist in me sees a politician with a great photo op; the fellow player sees a guy probably happy to not be the mayor for an hour and instead play some hockey,
I mentioned to him afterwards that the city of Vancouver also shares a birthday with Olaf Kolzig, who turned 41 the same day. The fact that he even knows who Olie the Goalie is – I’m not going to lie – makes him that much more likely to score my vote.
(This blog post was first published April 7, 2011 at OpenFile Vancouver.)