“I have sailed across the ocean in a sailboat in both directions … I have gone into space, I have skydived. I’ve done all sorts of things in my life. I’m certainly not a dull person, even though I don’t necessarily bring that out when I’m acting as a politician.”
That’s what Liberal MP Marc Garneau, who will announce Wednesday that he’s running for his party’s leadership, told a reporter a few weeks ago, and what he said sounded altogether true and desperate. True, because the celebrated astronaut has, indeed, had an exciting life, filled with extraordinary achievements. And desperate, because whatever he did and whatever he says, people will still find him boring.
Politics is unfair. Here’s a man, the first Canadian astronaut in space and the hero of three shuttle missions, whose professional record is as thick as Justin Trudeau’s is thin. If substance trumped looks, Mr. Garneau would already be miles ahead of Mr. Trudeau, a former high-school teacher who, in four years in politics, has never expressed an original thought on policy. In fact, each time he’s made headlines, it was for some kind of silly comment for which he later had to apologize.
(I just received an e-mail from a 22-year-old law student who describes himself as a fervent “Trudeauite.” He went to a reunion where Justin Trudeau was the guest speaker to see whether he could transfer his admiration of the father to the son. “He told us we must change the world! This is what you say at 15, not at 40!” the student wrote.)
Yet, few within the Liberal Party believe Mr. Garneau has the right stuff. If Liberals are happy to see the MP for Westmount–Ville-Marie jump into the fray, it’s only because he’ll inject some competition into the leadership race and avoid a coronation. After all, he has much more name recognition than all the other potential contenders.
Alas, as a Liberal MP told Le Devoir, “Mr. Garneau has a good brain, he has good ideas on policy, but he won’t bring us back to power. He’s not a political animal.”
That’s an understatement. Mr. Garneau was elected at the same time as Mr. Trudeau, but he still has no high public profile as a politician. Even though he’s by far the most credible Liberal MP in Quebec (Denis Coderre is seen as an old-school organizer, and Irwin Cotler, although a distinguished scholar, is a rather silent figure), not a single mainstream magazine, whether in French or English, saw fit to write a full portrait of the astronaut-turned-politician, arguably because a cover story featuring Mr. Garneau wouldn’t sell many copies.
A consummate gentleman, he never raises his voice, and he avoids personal attacks. He’s not the kind of politician who rushes toward the limelight. I’ve heard him many times on radio public affairs programs, where he was interviewed on various policy points, and he always earnestly and rationally answers questions but in such bland terms that he doesn’t capture the audience. Maybe because of his military and scientific background, he seems unable to appeal to people’s emotions. He comes across as sensible, honest and, yes, dull.
On the other hand, Michael Ignatieff was anything but dull, and look where he led the Liberal Party. Who knows if Mr. Garneau will not be the surprise of this Liberal leadership race?