Canada’s first-ever astronaut said going into space is in some ways simpler than running for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.
Marc Garneau was the guest of the Richard Ivey School of Business at Western University Monday (Feb. 25). About 20 students and professors attended the event, moderated by professor Mike Moffatt.
The rocket man-cum-member of Parliament said ascending to the heavens strapped to seven million pounds of thrust was the hardest thing he’d ever done, but at least the rules of engagement were consistent.
“They’re both very challenging,” he said. “One is working with the laws of physics which are well defined, the other is far more complicated because there’s lots more unpredictability.”
As president of the Canadian Space Agency from 2001-2005, Garneau was in charge of 700 employees, and a $300-million annual budget funded by the taxpayer. He said he is the right person to lead the Liberals in the next election because he has a “lifetime of experience.”
“I’ve made difficult decisions in my life,” he said. “I’ve run a complex organization. I’m a person who keeps his cool under pressure. I’m at the peak of my capability right now.”
Earlier in the day Garneau challenged Papineau MP Justin Trudeau to a one-on-one debate. He said in a contest with eight other candidates, it can be challenging for a single candidate to flesh out their platform and Trudeau is one who has been too vague for his taste.
Trudeau, who Garneau described as a friend, declined the invitation.
“You know what? It’s not what your age is, it’s whether you have new ideas,” he said. “And I really have new ideas for this party.”
Garneau said two weeks ago he challenged Trudeau to “put more meat on the bone” with regard to his platform. Within four days, he said, Trudeau’s online platform had indeed beefed up.
When Trudeau spoke at Western Feb. 6, he told what was possibly 400 students and supporters he was taking a different tack as a leadership candidate, allowing his campaign to act as an input-gathering exercise that would shape his platform as Liberal leader.
Garneau said his challenge wasn’t an attempt to horn in on the attention Trudeau was getting, but because Liberals deserve a better idea of the policies of the person they would be putting in charge of their party April 14.
“Not to be unkind to our last leader, but we didn’t ask him those kind of tough questions and in the end the Conservatives defined us as opposed to us defining ourselves.”
Garneau retired from the Royal Canadian Navy as a captain in 1989. He was appointed as an officer of the Order of Canada in 1984 in recognition of becoming Canada’s first person in space on October 5 of that year. He was promoted to companion in 2003. He holds a PhD in engineering from London, England’s Imperial College of Science and Technology and spent 29 days in space aboard three NASA missions.
During his formal presentation, Garneau spoke mainly about research and development and the role the knowledge economy had in jump-starting Canada’s job market.
The fifth-year MP for the downtown Montreal riding of Westmount-Ville Marie said Canada is lagging behind the world in innovation and productivity, partially because it has relied on its abundant natural resources too much. He said Israel, bereft of natural resources, invests in research and development as a percentage of GDP at more than twice the rate Canada does: 4.7 percent compared to our two percent.
He called the commitment by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to spend $400 million over seven to 10 years on venture capitalism “nothing.”
That said, he argued it is the private sector that should drive venture capitalism, not the government.
Asked about youth unemployment, which at 14 percent is about twice the national average, he said his plan was to create a tax credit program for companies that hire recent graduates, and to suspend “indefinitely” the student loan repayments of grads earning less than $40,000 per year.
“I think it is the right thing to do,” he said. “It would cost us $500 million in forgone revenue, but I would consider that a good investment.”
Eric Huang is a second-year economics student who plans to be an economist when he graduates.
“It was refreshing,” he said after the presentation. “It was very focused on innovation, which I like. I think our science research needs a lot of innovation funding right now.”
He said a friend of his recently lost his job due to research funding cuts.
“It’s good that (Garneau) would want more innovation.”