Thursday, October 7, 2010

Marc Garneau: The Future of the Canadian Liberal Party?

Marc Garneau and his team do not want this story published.

I know that because his media representative explicitly told me so.

Eye on a Crazy Planet recently ran a poll asking readers who they would like to see as the leader of the Canadian Liberal Party. The poll was unscientific and the response was much lower than the previous poll asking about whether the US should bomb Iran (a resounding 'yes' from a big majority of you on that one).

This poll very intentionally listed only 3 candidates by name. That was because there is a dearth of potential leaders who excite the public among the group who have vied for the top position in the Liberal party since Stephane Dion's unsuccessful term which began in 2006.

Two in the poll were the ones most frequently associated with the current Liberal leadership, Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae, and a third, Quebce MP for the riding of Westmount--Ville-Marie, Quebec, Marc Garneau.

While none polled well, Garneau polled better than either Ignatieff and Rae. And looking to the future, the Liberals need to consider looking past the leadership of Michael Ignatieff.

Ignatieff is an intelligent, honest leader with sound policies. He is also uncharismatic and has failed to excite the Canadian electorate.

Bob Rae is a nice guy. He's a smart guy.His policies are thoughtful and reasonable. Enough time has transpired since his unsuccessful term as Premier of Ontario that a lot of that baggage has been shed, along with his old NDP membership card. But in my assessment, his time to lead the Liberal Party of Canada has passed. That time should have been in 2006 when the Liberals made the incomprehensible choice of Dion. The reactions to Rae nation-wide suggest that he could not win a national election.

So who does the Liberal Party have? None of the leadership contenders from '06 show any real promise. The two strongest of that crop, among those not already mentioned, would be Gerrard Kennedy and Ken Dryden. Kennedy's policy positions have always made him a much better fit for the NDP than the Liberals, but his ambition took him to the party where he felt he could achieve more power. He would be a disastrous Prime Minister.

Ken Dryden's personality as a politician is a lot like that of...well.. a goalie.He is exceptionally bright, but as a speaker is dull and uninspiring. As in his previous life, he's great at preventing the other side from scoring goals against him. But winning a game requires more than just not losing. It requires someone who can score and Ken has never been that guy.

There are some who have mentioned Justin Trudeau. Trudeau the younger has none of his father's adroit political skills. He's basically a name and a good haircut.

Marc Garneau, the Liberals' Critic for Industry, Science and Technology, is someone who may represent the best hope the Liberals have for regaining the national leadership in the foreseeable future.

He has the obvious necessary criteria of intellect, speaking ability and thoughtful policy positions.

But he has a lot more. All the successful Liberal Prime Ministers since Confederation, with the sole exception of William Lyon Mackenzie King, were Quebecois, like Garneau. For the Liberals to be able to get an effective majority, they need to be able to win over a large part of the Quebec electorate and Garneau, who is the chair of the Quebec Liberal Caucus, can do that.

But he also has to be able to win over much of the rest of Canada and as Canada's first astronaut, Garneau is and was a national hero before his entry into politics. He is a popular figure across the country who already has had two schools in Ontario named after him. The Liberals under Garneau would be able to win seats in every province, and could easily take their traditional majorities in both Quebec and Ontario. Something that no Liberal has done since prior to the 1993 election.

It should be clear that Garneau's staff has emphatically denied that they have ambitions or are thinking this way right now. They say they are solely focussed on being part of Michael Ignatieff's team and that they fully support his vision and the way he has put together a team of great parliamentarians who will be able to go out and win the next election.

They also say the think Mr. Ignatieff is doing a "great" job as Liberal Party Leader.

Okay. But for the sake of argument, let's assume the polls are right and the rest of Canada doesn't agree with that assessment of Mr. Ignatieff.

If that's the case, then while Marc Garneau may not be thinking of positioning himself for the Liberal leadership, he should be.

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