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Former Quebec Premier Jean Charest

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Justin Trudeau may have "the ingredients" of leadership, as former prime minister Brian Mulroney told The Globe's editorial board last week. But if he is to restore the fortunes of the Liberal Party of Canada, Mr. Trudeau will need more than that. He will need to prove himself worthy of that leadership.

The only way for that to happen is for Mr. Trudeau to earn the leadership in a competitive race. Unfortunately, there is no evidence so far that the Liberal leadership will be competitive. On Friday, New Brunswick MP Dominic LeBlanc, who has long harboured leadership ambitions of his own, announced he was backing Mr. Trudeau's candidacy. Former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna said earlier that he's not interested in seeking the leadership. The result has the Liberals engaged in the installation, not election, of a leader.

That would be a shame, not only because handing the reins of the party to an unproven MP is a risky strategy, but also because that risk is compounded when he has not been made to work for it. More than that, it would seem to eliminate the possibility that the savagely reduced party will have a needed debate over what, if anything, it stands for. Only six years ago, after the resignation of Paul Martin, a large number of candidates who seemed, at least at the time, to be serious contenders, contested the leadership, among them Stéphane Dion, Bob Rae, Michael Ignatieff and Gerard Kennedy. Clearly, it is not the prize it once was.

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There remains the possibility that Marc Garneau, the former astronaut, will enter the race. Mr. Garneau is a credible candidate, and has a wealth of experience leading a cutting-edge organization, the Canadian Space Agency. But this is still a minuscule talent pool. Where are the other Liberals, not necessarily sitting MPs, who can help rescue a foundering party? Where are the business Liberals who once gave it heft and made sure it was not a pale imitation of the New Democrats? Is Jean Charest, who no doubt might like a bit of a rest, the answer? Gordon Campbell?

This is a party in desperate need of leadership – not a messiah, not a rock star, but a leader with the judgment, toughness, boldness and political smarts to revive its fortunes, and earn it back some respect. Mr. Trudeau may prove to be that leader. But a coronation would do him, and the party, no favours.

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