Marc Garneau's campaign for the leadership of the Liberal Party aims to capitalize on a westward shift in the Canadian economy, which he feels can help him defeat his rival Justin Trudeau next spring and take on Stephen Harper in 2015.
In an interview one day ahead of his formal campaign launch, the former astronaut and current Liberal MP extolled the virtues of a responsible development of Canada's oil sands and other natural resources. While he didn't attack Mr. Trudeau for making negative comments about Alberta politicians, Mr. Garneau made it clear he has never slammed the province, its economy or its politics.
"I want you to know that I have never had any misunderstandings about the importance of Alberta, the importance of the West," Mr. Garneau said. "The economic engine of this country has moved in that direction, the centre of gravity of the country, and I have had no illusions about that."
Mr. Garneau also took shots at Mr. Harper's economic policies since becoming prime minister in 2006, arguing the Conservatives have failed to push for the diversification of the economy and end the country's reliance on the extraction of natural resources. "Right now, Mr. Harper is a one-trick pony," Mr. Garneau said. "All he does is focus on natural resources. That's good, but not good enough."
Mr. Garneau is set to make his leadership announcement on Wednesday morning at a hotel in his Montreal riding of Westmount-Ville-Marie. He is seen as a credible candidate in the Liberal leadership race, although his political acumen continues to be questioned inside Liberal circles.
A former captain in the Navy, Mr. Garneau joined the space program in 1983, and took his first of three trips in space the following year. Overall, he logged 677 hours in a state of weightlessness, before becoming the head of the Canadian Space Agency in 2001.
His political career hasn't followed the same steady upward arc. He failed in his first attempt to win a seat for the Liberal Party in the 2006 election. After spending two years on the board of a medium-sized oil-sands firm, he finally won a seat in the 2008 election in a riding that was seen as a Liberal stronghold, which he only narrowly held in 2011.
Mr. Garneau has slowly adapted to the world of cutthroat politics. He is a popular attraction wherever he goes, but he is still learning the art of political attacks and partisan speeches.
"As with anything in life, you learn as you go along," he said. "You make mistakes and you get better at it. I think I'm a better politician today than I was when I entered the arena in 2006."
Mr. Garneau seems to be aware of his limitations, and he is presenting himself as a steady hand instead of a flashy politician as he gets ready to take on his rivals. So far, the official candidates in the race are Mr. Trudeau, a Liberal MP since 2008, and Toronto lawyer Deborah Coyne. Liberal MP Joyce Murray, former Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay and other lesser-known candidates have also announced their intentions to run.
"I am known as a person who is calm under pressure, and a person who is reassuring, and those are two characteristics that I think Canadians look for in their leaders," Mr. Garneau said.
He said he plans to attack the Conservatives on economic issues, blaming the government for failing to balance the books after putting all of their "eggs in one basket."
"Commodity prices are going down, and when you don't have a diversified economy, you are much more subject to that kind of fluctuation," he said.
Some Liberals feel their third-place party can only realistically aspire to finish second in the next election, with any chance of coming to power occurring in the subsequent election, in 2019. However, Mr. Garneau believes that "after nine years of a Harper government, people may be ready for change." He said that consideration should guide party members and supporters as they select the next party leader.
"I have the kind of leadership qualities to answer the real ballot question on the 14th of April, which is: Who is the best person to defeat Stephen Harper in the next election?"