The spaceman vs. the space cadet.
That’s (sort of) what Sun Media’s Mike Strobel famously called the looming Liberal leadership contest between Marc Garneau and Justin Trudeau. There’ll be other contenders, perhaps, but Strobel’s pithy portrayal is the one that fits the race-to- be.
Garneau is a former astronaut, of course, and the first Canadian to go into space. His name is on the side of schools.
Trudeau, meanwhile, is the son of a former prime minister, and (in the view of his critics) a Canadian who lives in space 24/7. He taught inside schools. I’ve been pretty pro-Trudeau in this space, principally because I like the guy. He’s likeable. If the next election comes down to likeability (and elections often do), Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair are pooched. They’re both Angry Old Men, and therefore eminently dislikeable.
But Garneau ranks pretty high on the likeability scale, too, so he’d be a worthy adversary for Harper and Mulcair. Some of his critics say he’s a bit dull. But the Conservative leader is about as exciting as dryer lint and it hasn’t hurt him much, has it? It won’t hurt Garneau either.
The space cadet, therefore, needs to take the spaceman seriously. When Trudeau’s campaign is launched — and, rest assured, it will be — his main competition may be Marc Garneau, C.C., CD, Ph. D., F.C.A.S.I., MP.
Each of those letters appended to the end of Garneau’s name mean something. “C. C.” shows he’s not just a Member of the Order of Canada — he’s a Companion of the Order, our equivalent to knighthood. The only higher honour is one that comes directly from Her Majesty.
“C. D.” means he served in the Canadian Forces for many years, with distinction. Against a Conservative party that likes to depict itself as the only political party that is pro-military, those little initials will carry much weight. They will matter.
The Ph. D. part, naturally, means he possesses a Doctorate in Philosophy — in Garneau’s case, a doctorate in engineering from the prestigious Imperial College of Science and Technology in England. It is consistently ranked as one of the top universities in the world and Garneau got there on a fellowship — and not because of his surname or the size of his bank account.
“F. C.A.S. I” means he’s a fellow of the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute. In 1984, Garneau was chosen to be the first Canadian in space, out of 3,000 applicants. He went on to do two other space flights. For that, NASA gave him their exceptional service medal and their space flight medal. Oh, and he likes long trips; when he was younger, he sailed across the Atlantic a couple times, for kicks.
Garneau was the president of the Canadian Space Agency when he decided to run for Parliament, for the Liberals. He ran against the Bloc Quebecois, and lost. In his next try, he won big — by more than 9,000 votes — in Westmount-Ville Marie. In 2011, he won again.
In person, Garneau is not your typical politician. He is comparatively quiet and self-effacing. He is thoughtful and he does not go for the quick or easy clip. The first time I met him, he attended a speech I was giving to a multi-partisan group of students at McGill. He listened to what the students said and didn’t tell them what they should think. That impressed them, and me.
The spaceman does not possess an immense war chest or a formidable leadership organization. At the moment, he is saying — candidly, plainly — that he may run for the top Liberal job, but he may not. It depends.
He should run. He does not merely possess one of the most impressive CVs in the House of Commons — his IS the most impressive. If the race comes down to excellence and achievement, Marc Garneau is the man to beat.
And, after 10 long years of Stephen Harper, excellence and achievement are in seriously short supply in Canadian politics.