This analogy's been done to death, but it's worth repeating anyway: when it comes to competitive leadership elections, the Church of Rome now officially beats the Liberal Party.
It took two days and five rounds of voting for the cardinals to elect Pope Francis; it will probably take about 15 minutes for the Grits to install Justin Trudeau. With presumptive second-placer Marc Garneau having unexpectedly dropped out yesterday morning, the conclusion of next month's Liberal leadership contest is now firmly set, barring divine intervention. Of the five most recent party bosses, Justin will become the fourth to assume office through a process well below Vatican standards of democracy.
Let's refresh. When Prime Minister Chretien resigned in 2003, Paul Martin was installed as Liberal boss in his place, uncontested (I don't count Sheila "6 per cent" Copps and neither should you). When Paul got the boot in 2006, the party had a brief Arab Spring, and Stephane Dion -- the Mohammad Morsi of Grit leaders -- came to power in a free and fair election followed by immediate voter's remorse. Dion's 2008 resignation then beget the uncontested installation of Michael Ignatieff, which in turn beget the uncontested installation of Bob Rae in 2011. Rae has since attempted to fan the odor of his own backdoor succession by claiming to be a mere "interim" leader, but with nearly two years of service under his belt, we're really getting into po-tay-to/po-tah-to.
Now, obviously Garneau would have never actually beaten J-Tru -- have you seen the numbers? -- but regardless of the mathematical logical of his departure, its most immediate consequence is to provide more depressing proof that the Libs are a fundamentally royalist lot disinterested in maintaining even the thinnest pretence of internal democracy. What was a strategically wise move for Marc was a cynical and destructive one for the party itself.
All political systems are partially based on myth, and all require a bit of theater to sustain their public legitimacy -- democracy as much as any other. Once Justin's leadership destiny looked sealed, the press collectively agreed that Garneau's role in this particular play would be Miss Congeniality: the loveable runner up, who, while not exactly tiara-and-sash material, could still provoke genuine pity in losing. Not a glamorous casting, perhaps, but a necessary part, and certainly one other politicians have handed with great poise and aplomb. John McCain almost certainly knew he was going to lose to Barack Obama in 2008, for instance, but his (mostly) dignified campaign and touching concession speech proved even a destined loser could grant a certain legitimacy to the electoral process itself. The second choice may not always be attractive, but under our system it's always supposed to exist. Someone has to provide it.
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As a potential prime minister, Garneau was always overrated. His life accomplishments, though heroic and inspiring, never obviously equipped him to lead a G7 economy, and, if anything, simply proved that being good at something, anything, was enough to stand out in an unskilled crowd. But justified or not, he was perceived to be serious, smart, and wonky where Justin was easy, breezy, and beautiful. An honest alternative, in other words.
But with Garneau gone, none of the race's other assorted yahoos can possibly fill that void. Their vain and pointless presence in this contest, as I've said before, is to mock the concept of choice rather than provide it. When your selection is between the serious and the obviously unserious, a guy who's good enough and a team of clownishly unqualified good-for-nothings, you're being taunted with a leading question almost too insulting to answer. Would you prefer tuna casserole, pencil shavings, or cyanide for dinner tonight? Hey, don't get uppity, you've got a robust menu here!
For all his presumptuousness, Justin Trudeau has worked hard on carrying an air of humility. He tweets pictures of himself eating hamburgers and is quick to credit his success to others, as he did most recently in a memorable closing statement at last week's Halifax debate. Easy to do when you're in first place, perhaps, but the fact remains you don't get as liked as he is without being somewhat likable.
Doc Garneau, in contrast, spent the last few weeks running a campaign clearly fueled by frustration and resentment. Every compliment given by the press and supporters he boastfully repeated, every insult about Justin he mercilessly echoed. In many ways his campaign was the true personality cult; from speeches crammed with cloying space analogies to relentless resume flaunting, Team Garneau never quite mastered the subtle sale. His final interviews, including one he did with this site last week, had an air of irritated gruffness to them, the voice of a man who was thoroughly exasperated at the unjustness of a world that did not recognize his brilliance and talents as much as he did himself. It was not a campaign of aspiration or outreach, it was one you could simply take or leave, and it seems most Liberals were leaning towards the latter.
But we'll never really know for sure. In this final act of vanity, Garneau has now insulated his ego from the indignity of defeat, a humbling fate he doubtlessly considered beneath a man who's been above so much. Yet in denying voters himself, he's now denied his party the choice he claimed they needed, and a chance to escape the stereotypical fate he said they didn't deserve.