There may be nine candidates in the so-called federal Liberal leadership race, but there’s really only one man in the running. As a Postmedia News column noted on Monday, it is a contest in name only.
Not only is that fact painfully obvious, it has turned what should have been some productive and attention-getting back and forth debate into a largely timid and boring policy reaffirmation.
And at the end of it all — barring more foot-in-mouth disease from the front-runner — the son of former prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau will likely walk away with the Liberal crown, such as it is.
That much was made clear to us when three of the leadership candidates stopped in Brandon over the past week in a bid to get their message out to western Manitobans.
On Thursday, more than 200 people attended a question-and-answer session at Brandon University with leading candidate Justin Trudeau. As the Sun reported, the university’s ceremony room was packed with supporters, young and old, as well as other simply interested in politics. Some asked for autographs, many posed for photos — even some members of the media — and several asked questions of the Liberal MP.
In comparison, Canada’s first astronaut, Marc Garneau, who is largely seen as the distant second candidate in the Liberal race, attracted all of half a dozen Liberal supporters on Sunday morning during a public meeting at Smitty’s in the city’s north end.
Liberal leadership candidate David Bertschi, a relative unknown in these parts, also made an appearance in Brandon Thursday night at Canad Inns.
And to further cement Justin Trudeau’s front-runner status, an analysis of Elections Canada data made public at the end of January showed that he has raised more money than all the other Liberal leadership candidates combined.
As CBC reported, the analysis shows Trudeau had collected $673,156.53 in donations from individuals up to the end of December 2012. Running a distant second was Martha Hall Findlay with $149,877.45, followed by Garneau with $122,616.11.
With the future Liberal leader apparently all but chosen in the minds of the public, the candidates are treading carefully in their criticism of the young and popular contender, as they fear to awaken the dreaded Conservative attack ad that so destroyed previous Liberal leaders.
As the Winnipeg Free Press reported on Sunday, the second meeting of the Liberal minds in Winnipeg was essentially a softball affair, even though it was billed as a debate. Each of the nine got about 10 minutes to talk with moderator Harvey Locke, answering softball questions in what essentially became a conversation about Liberal values.
The only unscripted part of the entire affair occurred when two Idle No More protesters disrupted the chit-chat style proceedings. That’s about as exciting as it got. They were quickly hustled out.
Frankly, having a sham of a leadership race is almost as bad as having no leadership race — shout out to the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives here and their coronation of current leader Brian Pallister. In both cases, it becomes next to impossible to spark public interest — a necessary ingredient for any party that hopes to gain momentum going into a new election, whether it be federal or provincial.
And as Postmedia rightly noted, not asking the tough questions of leadership candidates means the one who ultimately wins the contest goes unprepared into a real election race, where the stakes are so much higher.
Such timidity makes for a poor party leader and an awful prime minister.
Unless the Liberal party candidates make a real race of it, and force Trudeau to answer some tougher questions to prove his worth, the party may be damning itself to irrelevant third-party status yet again.