Let's face it: nine people on a stage can't have a "debate". Yesterday's federal leadership gathering wasn't one, either. But it was slightly more entertaining than the first two.
Six of these candidates should step aside and call it a day. They have no prospect of winning and they've made whatever point they wanted to make. Their vanity project has run its course and 15 minutes are up.
That includes the self-described "smart", "courageous", "tough" Martha Hall Findlay. She has made the centerpiece of her campaign trashing her former colleagues as being "afraid" and not having "substance". The irony is that the only policy she has unveiled is eliminating supply management. She did muse about raising the GST, but wisely backtracked on that one.
Hall Findlay has lost more elections than won, and this is her second run at the top job. Her record as an opposition MP was undistinguished. She lost a seat she should have won, and it took her six years to pay off her debts from her last-place finish in the 2006 leadership contest.
Despite this reality, Hall Findlay continues to suggest that her "substance" and "experience" is what we need. No thanks. Why she thinks she should be leader of the Liberal Party is a mystery.
Hall Findlay and others persist in their tiresome calls for "specific policy" and "substance". Yet, they should know that the days of three guys around the Leader in Ottawa writing a platform and releasing it like the Sinai tablets are long, long gone. Canadians are all grown up. It's about time Liberals started treating them like it. Otherwise, we're on our way to extinction as a party.
The other candidates are part sideshow, part curiosity, and unquestionably a distraction. Nice people, perhaps, and maybe even decent MPs one day. But they are far from remotely electable national leaders. Only three can legitimately claim to have earned the right to stay for the next rounds: Justin Trudeau, Marc Garneau, and Joyce Murray.
While I may differ with Murray on some of the content of her program, she has proven herself to be one tough cookie and a very serious candidate. Besides her track record of actually winning contested nominations and close elections, she has positioned herself squarely as an important voice on the "progressive" wing of the party.
Murray has a thoughtful, comprehensive, and cohesive set of ideas. And whether I like it or not, Murray has shown a lot of guts to be the lone voice and intelligent advocate for cooperation with other parties.
Garneau was a disappointment in this debate. He appeared to step out of character—perhaps on the advice of whoever is advising him—and go for the jugular last week in a vain attempt to stop the Trudeau freight train. He appeared to feel it necessary to prop himself up by diminishing Trudeau. It didn't work. It just made him look small, floundering, and somewhat frantic.
Better for Garneau to focus on his strengths and champion his ideas. Unfortunately, on that front, like Hall Findlay, although he talks a lot about "substance", a cursory view of Garneau's website shows that he hasn't released a single number to suggest how much any of what he is proposing would cost and how he would pay for it. Not one.
If Garneau is to recover from this, he should return to being the intelligent, content-driven statesman. His stature and gravitas is important to the Liberal Party and he shouldn't jeopardize it by trying to best Martha Hall Findlay in the cheap shot department.
As for the front-runner, Trudeau, he continues to impress. He has remained calm and composed all week. He never seems to panic, takes it all in stride, and stays focused on the bigger game. His understanding of the country is far superior than many give him credit for. His hopeful, optimistic, pragmatic Liberalism is entirely consistent with where most of us are.
The political operators that watch and organize these things still don't seem to get the Trudeau phenomenon. It has nothing to do with being famous for being famous, as his critics charge. It doesn't seem to have occurred to some that Canadians just might like Trudeau's ideas. Clearly they do; otherwise he wouldn't be leading the pack by every metric that matters.
Trudeau attracts massive crowds everywhere he goes. That's no coincidence and no fluke. It happens because they like what he has to say and want to hear more. And people really are, as he said yesterday, sick and tired of being cynical. They want to believe that we are better than they've been seeing out of Ottawa. Deep down, they know we are. Trudeau is the only candidate who seems to hear what Canadians are saying and is reflecting back to them the kind of leadership they so crave.
Trudeau is bypassing the Liberal Party and reaching for the hearts and minds of a broad-cross section of Canadians. He knows full well that the Liberal Party didn't create Canada; Canada created the Liberal Party. And if Liberals want to be relevant and successful again, we had better create room for Canadians in our party.
In the broad scheme of things, this is as significant, profound, and yes, "substantive" as it gets.
Daniel Veniez was the Liberal candidate in West Vancouver–Sunshine Coast–Sea to Sky Country in the 2011 election. Reach him on Twitter at @danveniez.