Do we all owe Marc Garneau an apology? -

Do we all owe Marc Garneau an apology?

Did defeated Liberal leadership candidate expose our emptiness?


Jonathan Kay suggests Marc Garneau’s defeat is a defeat for idealistic pundits (and possibly a mark of shame on the entire nation).

Pity Marc Garneau. We said we wanted a serious intellectual promoting serious policy ideas. He was brilliant enough to fit the role perfectly. And naïve enough to think we actually meant it.

Alice Funke, meanwhile, suggests Mr. Garneau never fulfilled the promise of substantiveness that he made.

Kay could have probably written the same thing about Michael Ignatieff in May 2011 or Stephane Dion in October 2008. But then he wouldn’t have been able to say that voters chose instead to fall in love with a sexy, charismatic pop idol. (In fact, in three consecutive elections, a plurality of voters has chosen a party led by a relatively unexciting policy wonk who likes to remind people that he studied economics.)

How bold and smart and interesting was Mr. Garneau’s policy platform? Most of the major themes—high-speed Internet access, post-secondary education, assisting small business, engaging with China and India—were included in the Liberal party’s 2011 platform. Gender equality was a priority for Stephane Dion. Electoral reform has long been a pledge of the NDP. The details of Mr. Garneau’s plans might have differed from these previous proposals, but he was not quite revolutionary in his general direction (though opening the telecommunications sector up to foreign investment might count as a bold proposal).

Were Mr. Garneau’s policy proposals so great that Liberals should have flocked to his campaign? I suppose you could try to make that argument, but it requires more than the simple equation that he who proposes more policy should win.

He was, undoubtably, the first astronaut to seek the leadership of a major federal political party. But politics is not a matter of submitting your resume. Nor should it be. And while our democracy might not yet be a perfect meritocracy—or, rather, its results might not correspond perfectly with the specific merits we would like it to—succeeding at democracy is of some merit in and of itself.

Perhaps Mr. Garneau better fits some particular idea of what we wish we had. But then maybe someone like Bob Rae or John Manley—who also have impressive resumes and might have proposed more policy—could have beaten Mr. Trudeau. Maybe, as Alice suggests, Mr. Garneau simply didn’t run a good enough campaign. Other than being an astronaut and proposing some specific policies, is there any particular reason voters should have rushed to Mr. Garneau’s candidacy?

Don’t we also wish our politics could be more interesting and inspiring? Conceivably that—in addition to the prospect of electoral success that Mr. Trudeau represents—accounts for much of his appeal.

All things considered, Mr. Trudeau’s likely victory doesn’t seem so much a defeat for the idea of smarter politics as it is a testament to the power of being interesting to people and then being able to harness that interest, especially in a relatively small and sequestered campaign. And, with a decided advantage in that regard—indeed as a uniquely interesting candidate with a rather unique ability to quickly appeal to people—he did not need to use specific policy proposals to generate support (though he did not entirely shy away from acknowledging the affairs of the nation). Many supporters, of course, were likely drawn to that simple prospect of success that Mr. Trudeau seemed to present. If pundits thought Mr. Trudeau was a better choice for the Liberals, it was probably for the same reason.

He will presumably have to present a policy platform and regularly opine reasonably on the issues of the day over the next two years if he is to lead the Liberals to a good result in the next election. If he continues to be light on policy—or, even better, if he proposes a series of blindingly dumb ideas—and still wins the next election, then, perhaps, it will be time to lament for the profound emptiness at the heart of our democracy. Until then, it is probably more reasonable to conclude that a more charismatic candidate with a better political machine simply bested a slightly above average politician with a good resume and a more specific policy platform in a middling race to see who will lead a desperate party that has fallen very far in the last decade. Which is to say, I’m not sure this qualifies as a referendum on the nation’s soul.


Do we all owe Marc Garneau an apology?

  1. “Don’t we also wish our politics could be more interesting and inspiring?
    Conceivably that—in addition to the prospect of electoral success that
    Mr. Trudeau represents—accounts for much of his appeal.”

    Indeed Mr W, some perspective on this if you please Mr K. Garneau is a man with a very impressive resume, but no evidence he’s a particularly good politician. And this is a race for leadership of a third place party that has fallen badly in the last decade – the sacking of Athens it aint.

    At bottom I find this question of whether character or charisma should lord it over presumed competence or serious policy wonkiness to be a dull one…and futile in the context of Canadian politics.
    Ideally the perfect leader should have the charisma of a Trudeau and the serious policy wonkiness of a Harper[ prefer a Dion myself]. But really if you turned the debate on its head and the cons had Trudeau and the libs had Harper the two partisan camps would immediately switch song sheets without batting an eyelid or a blush of shame.

    Which isn’t to say that as a good partisan i wont continue to point out Harper is about as charismatic as last weeks cold dead fish left over on the supper plate; or discontinue extolling the virtues of Trudeau’s charismatic charms, while secretly praying he really has a plan and knows where he wants to go.

  2. Well it’s not just Garneau….he is, after all, the third doctorate in a row that didn’t make PM. He just also happened to be an astronaut and a software developer.

    Maggie Thatcher asked in an interview how important was it that she was the UK’s first female PM, she answered “not very- it’s far more important that I’m the first one with a science degree.”

    So parties aside Canada is, on the whole, a mediocre unambitious country that doesn’t aspire to anything, and prefers to wait on magic for advancement.

    • Don’t blame all of Canada for the inadequacy of the Liberal leadership race. Some of us actually preferred Garneau.

      • And Dion? Ignatieff? And a man who ran an international shipping company?

        Canadians don’t seem to like ambition or ability….or success.

        • Canadians rejected Martin, Dion, and Ignatieff in spite of their (supposed) qualifications, not because of them.

          In the case of Martin, they had several years to see him in office, and found him wanting, no matter what his resumé said. Similarly, Canadians had plenty of time to see Dion and Ignatieff perform in the Opposition, and ultimately decided that their opponents’ criticisms of them were valid.

          I do not know of anyone who said “Ignatieff! That guy’s so smart and
          successful – I’m never going to vote for him!”, or “Who want to have our
          country run by an expert in law and the Constitution, like Dion? Not

          • No, Canadians resented all 3 of them….especially at the urging of Con attack ads.

            Policy, direction etc …..never came into it.

            Canadians may lie to themselves about it… they do about Mulroney….but it’s how they vote.

          • If you subscribe to the myth that Conservative attack ads have magical powers, you’re the one lying to yourself. If the attack ads resonated with Canadians, it’s because something about them rang true.

          • The attack ads resonated with Canadians because they resent education and success. The ads would never have worked if the resentment wasn’t already there. Cons just encouraged it….it’s called ‘class envy’.

          • How sad that you display such typical Liberal arrogance.

            You demonstrate open contempt for and dislike of average Canadians, and then express indignation that they don’t vote for your party? You’re really stupid enough to think that we can’t see your obvious disdain? That it has nothing to do with why we don’t trust you?

            I don’t understand how you can possibly be foolish enough to imagine you’re more intelligent or sophisticated than those average Canadians.

            But hey, carry on as you were. See where it gets you.

          • a) I am not a Liberal, so knock it off.

            b) It’s a human trait….and produces flames that parties and leaders shouldn’t fan. It’s short-sighted and even dangerous.

            c) I’m aware of how intelligent average Canadians are….I’m 5th generation, and 66.

          • You’re not a Liberal, despite the fact that you have publicly endorsed and worked for Liberal candidates? Fascinating.

          • ??? You have confused me with someone else.

            I was PC for 30 years….then Reform/CA

            Now I have nothing to do with any party.

    • Enter exhibit #1 (that extraordinary specimen):

      EmilyOne – the quintessential Canadian! (LOL) (quiet, don’t disturb those who are sleeping…)

      • Sigh* … for a while there I thought you might actually be intelligent…. but nope. I guess you are just like every other Con hack. Making fun of someone when you run out of…um.. intelligent things to say eh.

  3. Good point “Which is to say, I’m not sure this qualifies as a referendum on the nation’s soul.”

    But what about this one: “Many supporters, of course, were likely drawn to that simple prospect of success that Mr. Trudeau seemed to present. If pundits thought Mr.
    Trudeau was a better choice for the Liberals, it was probably for the same reason.”

    Let me get this sorted out: people’s repeat of JT being successful makes him successful which will then get repeated: you see, JT is successful because it has been said. Who’s said it? Well, everyone is saying he will be successful so he is successful.

    Never knew circular reasoning is the smart thing to do, but apparently it is. If voters are in favour of being sucked up by circular reasoning, well, then Justin is your man!

    • I was rooting for Garneau – or at least hoping for a real contest. JT is certainly charismatic, and occasionally shows flashes of real potential, but deep down I’m worried he’s just another “famous for being famous” type, and will fade fast.

      • Couldn’t have said it better myself: “famous for being famous” ! Thank you very much.

      • Just a question: what exactly do you find so charismatic about him?

        • Charisma is not something easily defined; it’s one of those “I know it when I see it” kind of things. But among other things, he’s good looking (something that always improves a person’s odds of acceptance, as much as we know intellectually that it shouldn’t matter); he has a certain openness, warmth and charm about him; he seems less afraid of making mistakes and admitting when he has done so than most pols (something many seem to consider a liability in a politician but which I frankly admire).

          In and of themselves, not particularly good reasons to vote for someone – and if that’s all he’s got, the rose will lose its bloom pretty quickly. . But if he can show that he can handle Harper in the House, put forth some solid policy and attract a solid bench of pols to form what looks to be a government in waiting, then that charisma may be just he extra element to put him over the top. Let’s face it – charm is not exactly a Harper strength, and by 2015 if this government isn’t showing real progress, a lot more people will be tired of Harper and looking for an alternative.

          • Sounds like you are saying, roughly speaking: Charisma is something in the eyes of the beholder.

            You see, I don’t find Justin good looking at all. I find his looks rather feminine for a man.

            And I can’t say that I find Justin to possess an openness. What you may consider to be openness, warmth and charm, I would consider an act, like playing in some sort of drama put on.

            Yes, charisma must be found in the eyes of the beholder. Time will tell how many Canadians will see through the picture in due course. Interesting times. I can’t wait to find out how Justin will do under pressure. That’s when the real Justin can come to the fore.

          • ” I can’t wait to find out how Justin will do under pressure. That’s when the real Justin can come to the fore.”


          • Yes but do we want him running the country when the pressure is on?

          • I think we’ll get to see how he handles pressure in the next couple of years. I’ll reserve judgment for now.

          • What was it that Ronald Reagan had in comparison to JT???

          • Not sure how RR factors in here, but I’ll play your game: Better acting skills?

  4. I don’t see how anyone other then Liberal Party members can be be responsible for the reasoning behind the choices they make, profound, shallow or otherwise, regardless of what media pundits say.

    • Spot on. The non-ideological party is going to choose a leader with no ‘ideology’.

      Canadians have a choice – both Cons and NDP are led by policy wonks or they can support the third party and their no ideology movement.

  5. To answer the headline’s question, no we do not owe Marc Garneau an apology. We do, however, owe him thanks for stepping up, albeit in a slow and dithering way, to offer himself as leader of LPC. His participation made the race stronger and more credible, and showed that LPC can still attract Great Canadians. Important stuff. I hope he’s part of Trudeau’s inner circle once this is all over.

    • His sudden withdrawal pulls back the curtain, and demonstrates that the leadership “contest” was a coronation all along. He’s basically undone whatever helpful things his joining the race did in the first place.

      • It isn’t a coronation just because people are attracted to one candidate over the others. Ignatieff — that was a coronation. Garneau did not have to release his private polling numbers, to be sure.

        • Strictly speaking it may still be a “contest”. But when the assumed second place candidate withdraws on the grounds that there’s no way he can possibly win, that “contest” looks like a sham – camouflage for a coronation.

          • Come on. (I enunciated that like GOB Bluth).

          • So… unless a contest is close, it’s a coronation?

            You do understand what the word “election” means, right?

          • Yes I do – and it doesn’t apply to this sham of a Liberal leadership race.

          • So… in NL, when Danny Williams was Premier, he had a lock on over 70% of the vote. By your logic then, his election was a sham?

        • No one else was running against Ignatieff….he won by default.

          Bob Rae did the same thing at the time that Garneau just did. With the same result

          • I know that; nobody running against him made it a coronation.

          • Well now that Garneau is gone, it’s a coronation again……because we know the numbers as well as Rae did back then.

  6. Just one question … how far would you follow Justin Trudeau if your livelihood depended on it? What level of trust can you muster up for this guy? What has he ever done? Will I miss Garneau – yes.

    • How is that even relevant? Name me one person in the CPC that you would trust your livelihood on. The current government is a freaking joke.

      My take is that JT (whether you like to hear this or not) is like a Captain Canuck, someone who embodies the ideals that many Canadians, particularly young Canadians, would like to see realized. If it were only him, then yes that would be a problem. But he’s got people like Garneau, like Rae, like Dion, etc., of which any three are worthy of greater trust than the entire CPC.

  7. We don’t “all” owe Garneau an apology, but I’d say the Liberal media certainly does. Trudeau was getting 20x the coverage of any other candidate even before he decided to enter the race. It wasn’t until Garneau started publicly attacking Trudeau that anybody in the media bothered mentioning his name. But most of us realized from the start that the LPC backroom boys had already decided who would be the next leader, and their shills in the media happily promoted him at their behest.

  8. Why oh why are people going on about Trudeau being all celebrity? This is politics. Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger were very successful politicians, proving that you can toss out a lot of policy, with loads of celebrity status and not one degree in economics.

    You can even get a whole branch of economics named after you.

  9. For whom the bell tolls.

  10. Nope. Why put out a policy platform years before the next election? Justin will have plenty to say on current events. That’s all he needs to do besides meeting with people across Canada to continue gathering support.

    • Conservatives are simply angry he’s not puttling policy out now, because it’s hard to find good red-herrings and strawmen if you’re limited to doing so during the election period only.

  11. I’m thinking of Ken Dryden and Marc Garneau. They are both very successful men and well loved by Canadians in their field. Then, something happens when they step into politics. Their success doesn’t seem to follow them. I wonder why and how that happens. Perhaps it’s more difficult to succeed in politics than it seems from the outside looking in. Does it take a certain personna to succeed in politics?
    There are very few media persons (who like to give us the impression that they have all the answers… that politicians and particularly the governing party are short-sighted, always making wrong decisions), who take the plunge into politics, and very few of those who do actually succeed.

  12. Trudeau is too inexperienced. This will be third lousy choice in a row for leader that the Grits have made.

    • And Harper was so much more seasoned? Please explain how…

  13. We seem to pick our politicians the same the same way the oscars are done. By fame, popularity, looks, charisma, etc. None of which equates to sound, responsible governance. We ALL should hang our heads in shame as we see another political leading body of no substance and flim-flammery!

    • Over the past year, I have come to the conclusion that Elizabeth May is the best party leader on the federal stage. It’s too bad she is leading a party that has no hope of forming government… or even Official Opposition status.

  14. On a few occasions Mr Wherry mentions policy positions, often with qualifiers like bold or great. As well Mr Wherry seems to key in on the volume of policy positions.

    Personally I’m not waiting around for a spectacularly bold policy or a party that comes forward with a plethora of policy positions. The policies that I would like to see pursued are mostly rather boring and have basically been talked about on and off for many years. So I’m watching for someone to assemble the best combination of existing policy positions into a single, hopefully coherent platform. That is where my support will go.