It would be an understatement to say that Martin Cauchon, the last-minute ninth contender in the federal Liberal leadership race, did not make a lasting impression on Canadians.
Last week, as Mr. Cauchon was about to announce his candidacy after months of dithering, an Angus Reid survey found that his name rang a bell for no more than 16 per cent of respondents, just 3 percentage points more than Martha Hall Findlay.
This is surprising, as just nine years ago, Mr. Cauchon was a key minister in Jean Chrétien’s cabinet – and a strong advocate for same-sex marriage, a groundbreaking issue that should have stuck in people’s memories. Perhaps, because of the massive flow of information on the Internet, people’s memories are overloaded.
There may be another reason why Mr. Cauchon sank into oblivion. Although he is competent and personable, there is something bland about him. He has no striking features, either physically or intellectually. His program is a desperately dull repetition of the Chrétien years, as if nothing has changed in Canada and the world.
His blueprint for the future is a return to Lester B. Pearson’s policy of “peacemaking,” devised half a century ago; the return of the long-gun registry, which was a resounding failure; and a return to the era when the federal government tried to micro-manage the health-care system. Welcome to the Canada of the 1960s.
Even though Mr. Cauchon, at 50, is among the younger candidates in the Liberal race, and even though he publicly admitted to having smoked marijuana (really, who hasn’t?), he looks and sounds like an earnest but rather boring, old-style politician. Now this might be an unfair impression. Maybe the triumphant figure of Justin Trudeau, the personification of youth, sex appeal and excitement, makes everybody else look old and square.
Mr. Cauchon has something else working against him. He doesn’t have a political base. The Outremont riding he represented from 1993 to 2004 – one of the safest Liberal seats in Canada – was grabbed by the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair, and Mr. Cauchon was unable to take it back in the 2011 election, when Mr. Mulcair got more than twice as many votes as the former justice minister. Mr. Cauchon will not confront Mr. Mulcair next time. A native son of La Malbaie, he intends to run in Charlevoix, where he unsuccessfully ran against Brian Mulroney in 1988.
During his absence from politics, Mr. Cauchon, a lawyer with Heenan Blaikie, rarely intervened in public affairs – even though he envisioned several comebacks, including a run in the 2006 leadership race. One of his former associates told a reporter that he just doesn’t have a clue why Mr. Cauchon was joining this leadership race.
Unless Mr. Cauchon surprises everyone – nothing of the sort happened during the rather tedious Sunday debate between the candidates – he probably won’t have a chance to play the kingmaker or establish himself as a force to be reckoned with by the future leadership of the party.
Most of his old pals from the Chrétien era are solidly behind Mr. Trudeau, if only because he seems to be the only one capable of bringing the Liberals back to power. And the Paul Martin clan hates Mr. Cauchon for supporting John Manley after Mr. Chrétien’s resignation. As for the post of Quebec lieutenant, it would probably go to Marc Garneau, the former astronaut and MP for Westmount–Ville-Marie, who’s been running a solid campaign and is a more popular public figure than Martin Cauchon.