Ken Dryden says he's running for the Liberal leadership because 'this country fascinates me.' (CBC)

Liberal MP Ken Dryden entered his party's leadership race on Friday, slamming the Conservative government's child-care policy.

"Calling it 'universal' is a debasement of the language," Dryden said shortly after declaring his candidacy at the Toronto school he attended as a child.

"It is a fundamental misuse of language," he said, referring to the Prime Minister Stephen Harper's election pledge to give parents $1,200 a year per child under age six.

Harper has said he will follow through on the commitment even if it means triggering a federal election.

Dryden charged that the government was being "dishonest" and said the future of child care in Canada must be put to the electorate.

"It is up to the Canadian public to decide what they want," he said.

The former hockey great also said he wants to rejuvenate his party and country.

"I am running for the leadership because this country fascinates me," said Dryden, 58. "I want big things for it."

Hockey great

A six-time Stanley Cup winning goaltender with the Montreal Canadiens, Dryden also played for Team Canada in 1972 and has been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was first elected to the House of Commons in the Toronto riding of York Centre in 2004.

He said his priorities as Liberal leader would include early learning, child care and education in general.

Dryden used self-deprecating humour to address criticism that his low-key speaking style could hamper his leadership hopes.

"I want all of you to know that my legendary speaking career began right here on this stage," he said to laughter from the audience.

The Liberal leadership convention will be held in Montreal in early December.

List grows

The past week alone has seen four other candidates to replace Paul Martin join the race: Nova Scotia MP Scott Brison, Ontario MPP Gerard Kennedy, Toronto MP Carolyn Bennett and former Ontario NDP premier Bob Rae.

Others who might enter the race include former cabinet minister John McCallum, former deputy prime minister Anne McLellan, and Ontario MP Ruby Dhalla.

When asked who he sees as his main competition, Dryden said, "everybody."

The race was triggered by Martin's resignation after losing the federal election last January.

Toronto MP Bill Graham is serving as the interim Liberal leader.