Grit Garneau gets leadership bid off the ground in North Vancouver

Federal Liberal leadership hopeful Marc Garneau addresses a crowd at North Vancouver’s Pemberton Station.  - Silvester Law photo
Federal Liberal leadership hopeful Marc Garneau addresses a crowd at North Vancouver’s Pemberton Station.
— image credit: Silvester Law photo

Marc Garneau, the science guy.

That’s how the two-time Montreal MP, Liberal house leader and hopeful to head up the federal Grits in 2013 wants voters to think of him. And rightly so.

President of the Canadian Space Agency, decorated navy captain, former Carleton University chancellor, Companion of the Order of Canada, Ph.D in electrical engineering, former Liberal critic for industry, science and technology and current critic for natural resources; Garneau certainly carries an impressive CV.

But he’s best known as the first Canadian to go to space; and for going back twice more, earning himself a spot in Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.

But Garneau’s current mission, and the one that brought him to The Outlook this week, is to once again capture the hearts and imaginations of Canadians, albeit while sticking a little closer to home.

While Garneau’s run for Liberal leadership this spring represents the next frontier for Canada’s most celebrated astronaut, he certainly doesn’t expect it to be his final frontier.

“That’s really just like getting to first base,” Garneau says of his hope to secure his party’s nod at the April 14 leadership convention in Ottawa. “The real task will be the next [federal] election in 2015.”

It’s a lofty goal, but such heights are familiar territory for Garneau. And he wants Liberal voters to see his leadership bid as the one most grounded in scientific and economic expertise.

Here in B.C., Garneau faces two uphill battles. One against home-turf candidate and Vancouver Quadra MP Joyce Murray, and the other against national Liberal frontrunner, Justin Trudeau.

Last week, an Angus Reid poll estimated a Trudeau win in the Liberal leadership race would boost B.C.’s paltry support for the party threefold, lifting the Libs to a neck-and-neck tie with the long-dominant Conservatives province wide.

Garneau may have been the one to go to space, but neither he nor any of the other five leadership contenders have yet been able to muster Trudeau’s undeniable “star power” as a candidate.

But from a policy standpoint, Garneau is striving to put some daylight between himself and his competitors, while letting his record as a manager and a motivator speak for itself.

On marijuana reform, Garneau says it’s time to “legalize it.”

On the Idle No More movement, Garneau sides with the concerns of the Attawapiskat chief, Theresa Spence, and the many other First Nations representatives across Canada who, in recent weeks, have been protesting the federal government’s alleged abuses of indigenous treaty rights.

On the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, Garneau says he will trust the scientific findings of the ongoing National Energy Board hearings, whatever they may prove.

“If, in the end, the National Energy Board hearings say there’s too much of a risk either on land or at sea, then the government must not overturn that decision,” he says. Doing so, as the Conservative government has threatened it could, would “make a mockery” of the whole hearing process, Garneau adds.

Regardless of the board’s findings on Northern Gateway, Garneau says trade with Asia and the expansion of B.C.’s knowledge, tech and resource-export industries will be top-of-mind for him in 2015, as they are today.

“I understand that the economic engine of this country has shifted — very clearly shifted to the West,” he says. “And that British Columbia and coastal populations — this area [of the North Shore], coastal towns and cities — have a major role to play.”

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