Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Liberal MP Marc Garneau on Parliament Hill March 6, 2023 in Ottawa.Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

Marc Garneau is leaving politics, departing Ottawa after 15 years in opposition, then in cabinet as transport and foreign affairs minister, and lastly as a backbencher.

He also once challenged Justin Trudeau for the leadership of the federal Liberals, but pulled out before the decision went to party members in 2013 because he realized he could not win.

Earlier this week, Mr. Garneau went to see the Prime Minister to inform him of his plans to exit. He told Liberal MPs of his intention to leave at their weekly meeting on Wednesday.

He also delivered a goodbye speech to the House of Commons in the afternoon.

During those remarks, Mr. Garneau apologized to his Notre-Dame-de-Grâce–Westmount constituents for leaving his job as MP, and thanked family members, as well as his constituency and parliamentary staff, caucus colleagues, and other MPs.

He challenged MPs to show respect for their colleagues. “Remind yourself, when your emotions run high, as they do for all of us, that those emotions need to be channelled in a positive way, whether you’re supporting something or criticizing it,” he said.

And then Mr. Garneau, the first Canadian in space, before his days in politics, was planning to take the train home to Montreal.

He attributed his exit to an appeal from his family last fall. “They would like me to be at home more often, to put it bluntly,” Mr. Garneau said in an interview. “I feel it’s the right time.”

It marks the end of the political mission of one of Canada’s most unlikely MPs – a retired naval officer who spent about 28 days in space on three space shuttle missions between 1984 and 2000. On Earth, he served as the Canadian Space Agency president before winning his Montreal-area seat in 2008.

He was appointed to cabinet when the Liberals won office in 2015, then left out of cabinet when the party was re-elected in 2021. He finished his last years as a backbencher.

Mr. Garneau swatted away the storylines likely to emerge about his departure. The pundits would be wrong to suggest he is getting out before the challenging next election the Liberals will face after about a decade in office, he said.

“I would say to those folks that there is only one reason why I am leaving and that is because I made a promise to my family last fall that I would be home more often,” he said. “It’s nothing more than that.”

Mr. Garneau added that he is 74.

He has four children, three living in Montreal, as well as three grandchildren. He is mindful of the price his family has paid for a career path that included a lot of travel in orbit and on Earth, as well as varied moves needed for military, space and other commitments.

Mr. Garneau also said he isn’t departing over lingering pique prompted by Mr. Trudeau dropping him from cabinet after the 2021 election, when Mr. Garneau assumed he would be back in the inner circle.

“I have to deal with reality, and my reality is what’s unfolded in the last year and a half. I am not in cabinet and the Prime Minister does not owe me an explanation,” he said. “You take the cards that are dealt to you, and I’ve had some incredible cards dealt to me in my life.”

He said he has enjoyed his time outside cabinet, chairing committees such as the standing committee on Indigenous and Northern affairs. He has also been a member of the special joint committee on medical assistance in dying.

“It has been meaningful to me because I don’t think I have ever grappled with something quite as profoundly human and important, potentially, to every single citizen of the country.”

All he has on his slate now is continued work on his memoirs. “It’s going well. At some point, I will need to approach a publisher and see if they are interested.”

Amid tributes in the House of Commons from MPs from all parties, Mr. Trudeau took note of Mr. Garneau’s remarks. “Even in his last act here in this House, with the deeply moving parting words to this House, he continues to push us, as he always pushed himself, to do our very best, in the very best of ways, to serve Canadians,” he said.

Conservative Pierre Paul-Hus said Mr. Garneau has always been a great, respectful Canadian. “He’s always been a gentlemen, an excellent politician,” he told MPs.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Mr. Garneau had accomplished so much in his prepolitical career that he didn’t need to do anything else.

But she told a news conference in Mississauga that he went on to serve with distinction as an MP and cabinet minister. “I totally understand that his family wants to spend more time with him because he is a great, great guy.”

Mr. Garneau said he leaves with one key regret. He was never able to successfully make the case for Canada to have a national children’s commissioner, akin to the commissioners for privacy and ethics, to provide a voice for children.

“Everybody has always said nice things about, yeah. that sounds good, and all that. But it’s just never happened. And I tried, but it just didn’t work.” He ruled out asking Mr. Trudeau about the issue at their final meeting.

He said he expects Mr. Trudeau to win the next election. “A lot of people have underestimated him,” he said. “He is a man of enormous inner strength.”

When asked about advice to the government on managing Quebec files, Mr. Garneau sidestepped the question.

“I have my ideas, but at this point, I am leaving and I am no longer in the business of working with other colleagues and giving my advice. I have done my bit, and now it’s time to go.”

For subscribers: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.