Marc Garneau may have had his mathematical reasons for bowing out of the federal Liberal leadership race last week, but his exit is likely to change the dynamics of the race - and not for the better.
As it stands, the clear front-runner, Justin Trudeau, is likely to sail into the top job with few obstacles. It'll be as good as a coronation, and surely that's not in the interests of Trudeau himself or the party in the long run.
Trudeau always has been seen as the likely choice for leader when federal Liberals hold their convention next month, but Garneau, a well-respected and credible candidate, was widely seen as the contender in the best position to challenge Trudeau. Indeed, during the initial candidate debates, he was forceful in his assertions that Trudeau was not offering substance on policy, although Trudeau defended himself ably enough, and has maintained a convincing lead in the polls.
It was the latest internal poll conducted by his own campaign, however, that apparently led Garneau to step down. According to the survey, Garneau said Trudeau had 72 per cent support, while he himself trailed at 15 per cent, followed by Vancouver MP Joyce Murray at just over seven per cent and former Toronto MP Martha Hall Findlay at about five per cent. Since it wasn't mathematically possible to win the top job, he said last week, he was choosing to step down and throw his support behind Trudeau.
The upside to Garneau's decision is that it does demonstrate a show of unity from the second strongest contender, and that's helpful for parties attempting to rebuild. But the potential downside is significant. With Garneau now out of the race, will there be as much interest in it? And will people who have been motivated to be involved feel less inclined to remain so if they think the election of Trudeau is a foregone conclusion?
Garneau has already done a service for Trudeau by being in the race. Trudeau's biggest weakness has always been the perception that he's all flash and no substance and that he's a contender only because of his name. Garneau's earlier challenges forced Trudeau to show his mettle. It's unfortunate that Garneau isn't staying in the race to maintain that pressure on Trudeau. As it is now, convention day in April will come across as a coronation day, and possibly with a reduced level of interest.
The end result will also provide fodder for the governing Conservatives who no doubt have their attack theme prepared for the next election campaign: that Trudeau lacks the experience and the substance to govern.
It was appropriate that the provincial government sent someone to represent the province at the memorial service for Stompin' Tom Connors last week in Peterborough, Ont. Connors may have been born in New Brunswick, but he was raised here until he was a teenager, and has been fondly adopted by Islanders as one of their own.
But the person who should have been asked to attend was Hal Perry, the Conservative MLA whose Tignish-Palmer Road riding includes Skinner's Pond, Tom's Island home. That Pat Murphy, the Liberal MLA in a neighbouring riding, was chosen instead suggests partisan politics was in play. If that's the case, it's unfortunate. Stompin' Tom was unabashedly Canadian and we're guessing he'd be the last person to have much time for such pettiness.