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Garneau reaches for new heights

Former astronaut tosses helmet in ring to be next Liberal leader

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MONTREAL -- He may never be known as Flash Garneau, but the latest contender for the helm of the federal Liberals hopes his astronaut credentials will give him a lift.

Marc Garneau repeatedly played up his resumé as Canada's first man in space as he officially launched his leadership campaign Wednesday.

The Montreal MP touted himself as the Liberals' best hope for defeating Prime Minister Stephen Harper, having gained the necessary experience and leadership skills during an impressive career before jumping into the political arena in 2008.

"I want to be the prime minister of Canada, I want to be the Liberal leader," Garneau told a news conference in Ottawa shortly after formally kicking off his campaign in his Montreal riding.

"I will talk about my strengths and my strengths are proven... There will be no modesty here. I'm going to speak specifically about what I've done in the navy, what I've done in the space program, including being the president of the Canadian Space Agency."

Garneau insisted he's not daunted by the prospect of going up against fellow Montreal MP Justin Trudeau, son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau and the prohibitive favourite.

"When I sent in my application (to become an astronaut), I was one of 4,000 people and I ended up No. 1," Garneau said. "So, I like to take on challenges and I'm taking on this challenge and I intend to win."

His campaign kickoff was starkly different than Justin Trudeau's launch early last month and the contrast suggests Garneau has plenty of work to do to catch up to the front-runner, both in terms of campaign organization and personal appeal.

Garneau strode into a packed hotel meeting room in his Montreal riding early Wednesday to a standing ovation from some 100 people. The event, however, featured no big-name Liberals, no music, only a few chants of "Garneau, Garneau, Garneau."

Having said repeatedly he wouldn't enter the race unless he was certain he could put together an effective campaign team, Garneau curiously refused Wednesday to name members of his team, other than campaign director Andy Mitchell, a former Ontario MP and cabinet minister.

His launch was significantly more reserved than Trudeau's rally in another part of the city last month. Trudeau received a rock-star welcome when he made his announcement before a boisterous, adoring throng of 500 supporters. The crowd included a number of former MPs, at least one current MP and some of his father's former cabinet ministers.

A number of sitting MPs have since jumped on Trudeau's bandwagon.

Garneau shrugged off questions as to why no MPs are supporting him thus far, suggesting Liberals are waiting to compare all the candidates during five leadership debates in the new year. After that, he said, they'll cast their votes on April 14 with only one question in mind: "Who is the best candidate to defeat Stephen Harper?"

"That is the fundamental question and I believe that I am this person," he said.

On his way into the weekly Liberal caucus meeting in Ottawa, Trudeau welcomed Garneau's entry into the race.

"He's a man of ideas and strength and he is going to be an important player in the coming months in the rebuilding of the Liberal party," Trudeau said. "And I'm very excited he's part of it."

Garneau is well-regarded on Parliament Hill as an earnest, hard-working, intelligent MP. He joins a large field of contestants, which includes Trudeau, Vancouver MP Murray, former Toronto MP Martha Hall Findlay, Ottawa lawyer David Bertschi, Toronto lawyer Deborah Coyne, retired Canadian Forces Lt.-Col. Karen McCrimmon, Vancouver prosecutor Alex Burton and David Merner, former president of the party's B.C. wing.

Toronto lawyer George Takach is expected to join the race today. Ontario government economist Jonathan Mousley is still hoping to enter if he can raise the stiff $75,000 entry fee.

So far, only Trudeau and Coyne have officially registered as candidates, filed the required nomination papers and paid the first of three $25,000 instalments on the entry fee. Garneau said he has also paid the fee and filed his papers but the party has not yet processed his application.

-- The Canadian Press

High flyer

MONTREAL -- A quick look at Liberal leadership candidate Marc Garneau:

Who: Liberal MP for Montreal's Westmount-Ville-Marie riding.

Age: 63 (Feb. 23, 1949)

Personal: Born in Quebec City. Married to Patricia Soame. Father of four children.

Education: Earned bachelor of science degree in engineering physics from Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., and doctorate in electrical engineering at England's Imperial College of Science and Technology.

Early career: Served as navy officer. Was named one of Canada's original six astronauts, and in 1984 became first Canadian to fly in space. Served as president of Canadian Space Agency from 2001 to 2005.

Politics: Defeated in Vaudreuil-Soulanges as Liberal candidate in 2006. First elected in Westmount-Ville-Marie in 2008 and re-elected in 2011. Was Liberal House leader from June 2011 until Wednesday.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 29, 2012 A15

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