Marc Garneau: The spaceman who fell to earth

With Garneau's exit, the race goes to Trudeau — unofficially

(Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

Officially, there is still a month left in the Liberal leadership race. Unofficially, the race was declared finished this morning. For all intents and purposes, maybe it wasn’t ever a race.

Marc Garneau quit this morning, despite, in his estimation, running in second place. According to the poll numbers he read aloud to reporters, Justin Trudeau enjoys the support of 72% of Liberals. Mr. Garneau had the support of 15%. Joyce Murray was next with 7.4%, then Martha Hall Findlay with 5.2%. (The survey apparently didn’t include the other candidates.)

Of course, Mr. Trudeau could still lose. A month is a long time. Something could happen to imperil the Trudeau campaign. But the most realistic alternative is now out of the race and so the odds of Mr. Trudeau losing now become that much longer (so long that you now have to dream up a fairly crazy scenario to imagine anyone else winning).

Meanwhile, less than a third of the people who could vote for the Liberal leader have apparently registered to do so and the Trudeau campaign wants the rules changed to improve on that, but the Murray campaign is protesting the Trudeau campaign’s request. And David Bertschi is having to attempt to brush aside questions about exceeding the limits on financial contributions to his own campaign.

This was always a bit of an odd race. Six of the nine candidates (Mr. Bertschi, Martin Cauchon, George Takach, Karen McCrimmon, Deborah Coyne and Martha Hall Findlay) did not currently hold elected office. Four of those candidates (Mr. Bertschi, Ms. Coyne, Mr. Takach and Ms. McCrimmon) had never held elected office. Mr. Cauchon was a former cabinet minister, but he’d also just been trounced by Thomas Mulcair in Outremont in the 2011 election. Given the Liberal party’s fallen state, it is perhaps not all that strange that the race to lead it was not quite a hotly contested clash of obviously qualified political titans. With the benefit of hindsight and omnipotent power, it is possible to construct an imaginary race that includes, say, Bob Rae, John Manley and Scott Brison. (At the very least, in hindsight, someone other than Mr. Rae probably should’ve served as interim leader.) As it is, the Liberals got a race that was top heavy and offered only narrow paths to victory for all of the non-Trudeau contenders, with only Mr. Garneau making a concerted attempt to make a real competition of it. And that race now seems to be coming to a decidedly unexciting (perhaps even clumsy) finish.

Which is not all bad for the Liberal party. Depending on what comes next, it might not ever be said to have mattered how the Liberals ended up with Justin Trudeau as their leader. And even if the race had been better contested and included any or all of the fantasy candidates, on the available evidence, Mr. Trudeau was and is the best bet: a young, exciting leader with talent and fame. If he was an American college basketball player and the Liberal leadership race was the NBA draft, analysts would be gushing about his “tremendous upside.” There’s no way of knowing whether he’ll pan out, but he is perhaps precisely the sort of leader a struggling party should be gambling on—especially if it might take two elections to get that party back within range of governing.

The Trudeau campaign should probably also thank Mr. Garneau—not for the support he offered Mr. Trudeau today, but for the criticism he levelled at Mr. Trudeau these last few weeks. Those attacks are but a hint of what Mr. Trudeau is about to face these next two years. Within the next few months, Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals will probably move ahead of the Conservatives into first place in public polling. In doing so, Mr. Trudeau will become the fourth opposition leader to enjoy such an advantage over Stephen Harper. But Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff never became prime minister and Mr. Harper and Thomas Mulcair are unlikely to quit the race for 2015. If the Liberal leadership race is ending on an anti-climactic note, it should perhaps reinforce the point that the real contest begins, officially, on April 15.

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