Some of the whimsy dissipated from the Liberal leadership race on Wednesday when former astronaut and MP for Westmount–Ville Marie, Marc Garneau, announced that he would be dropping out and giving his support to fellow candidate Justin Trudeau. So those who, like me, were hoping to see our first astronaut prime minister come the next federal election are left feeling rather disappointed. The other leadership candidates don’t share Garneau’s conviction that Trudeau 2.0 is an inevitability, but that stands to reason—why fight a battle that you believe is already lost?
However, for those Canadians who are not voting members of the Liberal party, the other candidates are, unfortunately, largely unmemorable. Can we tell Joyce Murray from Martha Hall Findlay? Do we even remember the names of the other four people who are running? Still, in comparison with 2012’s NDP leadership race—a more politically consequent event, given that the winner would become the leader of the Official Opposition—the Liberal leadership race seems much more newsworthy.
I wonder how much of that interest has to do with two words: astronaut and Trudeau. The first is enough to make anyone sit up and take notice, and the second is something of a trigger word for Canadians. Marc Garneau was, after all, the first Canadian in space. And whether we loved him or hated him, Pierre Trudeau was a prime minister who still stands out—even for those of us born well after his residency at 24 Sussex Drive.
But Justin Trudeau’s celebrity is not only a reflection of his illustrious father’s. He also had the honour of beating then-Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau in a political slugfest that was rather more literal than usual (actually a charity boxing match for Fight for the Cure).
By comparison, how many Canadians could pick New Democrat Leader Thomas Mulcair out of a line-up?
Regardless of whether either candidate has anything substantial to offer Canadians in general or the trounced Liberal party in particular, news stories on the subject focus on a poll conducted by Garneau’s staff, which seemed to show Trudeau with a 72 percent lead. Murray, in particular, questions these numbers as well as Garneau’s fatalistic acceptance of Trudeau’s win. And she may have the most realistic view of the party’s future, focusing on cooperation with the NDP and the Greens. (A potentially wise move, and perhaps a step in the same direction the Progressive Conservatives took in their 2003 merger with the Canadian Alliance.) But, in the face of her opponent and former opponent’s celebrity, her words and vision for the Liberal party—reasonable as they are—do not seem to be winning the media away from a view of Trudeau as a shoe-in for the Liberal leadership.
Justin Trudeau has the kind of prominence that may well keep the Liberal leadership race in the media spotlight, even without the entertaining conflict of a neck-in-neck Garneau vs. Trudeau campaign. Is he what the Liberal party needs to revitalize itself after its crushing defeat in the 2011 federal election? Or is he simply a media darling, a step backwards for a Liberal party that can’t admit it needs help? Either way, it may be a spectacle worth watching.