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Still Serving: Meet Marc Garneau


What was once a rare occurrence is becoming a common event: retired military personnel and military family members running for office and being elected for government. Whether it is civic, provincial or federal government more members of the military community are rolling up their sleeves and continuing to serve their country. In this issue we feature four members from our military community who have run for office, won the election and serve constituents in their community.

On the top of our list is Marc Garneau. One might say he has faced favourable circumstances or maybe it could be summed up by the fact he is willing to take risks, after all he has an appetite for adventure. Over the years, Marc has achieved many accomplishments and even made history. He spent 23 years in the Canadian Armed Forces, chosen for Canada’s inaugural astronaut program, ran the Canadian Space Agency and currently is the Member of Parliament for Westmount-Ville-Marie. The father of four comes from a family who has served Canada for generations.

 Astronaut Marc Garneau, representing the Canadian Space Agency as a mission specialist on STS-97, a Space Shuttle mission to the International Space Station
Astronaut Marc Garneau, representing the Canadian Space Agency as a mission specialist on STS-97, a Space Shuttle mission to the International Space Station

It could be argued Garneau has been serving his country since he was born, in 1949. He explains he grew up in “a typical military family.” Not only did his father, Andre Garneau, serve in the military, so did his grandfather, Gerard Garneau, and his uncle. All three men saw battle with his dad fighting in the Second World War, his grandfather fighting in the First World War and his uncle fighting in the Korea War.

Garneau’s grandfather, colonel (ret’d) Gerard Garneau, served with the 57th Battalion, the 163rd and finally the 22nd Battalion, which eventually became the Royal 22e Régiment. During the First World War his grandfather fought in the battles of Passchendaele and Lens, where he was wounded. However, that did not stop him from serving when he returned to Canada. Following in his father’s footsteps Marc’s father, brigadier-general (ret’d) Andre Garneau was a career infantry soldier who fought with the Regiment de Maisonneuve during the Second World War.

After the war Garneau’s father briefly returned to civilian life, but rejoined the military and served with the Royal 22e Régiment for the remainder of his career. This led to the family being posted to Werl, Germany, where both Canadian and British Armed Forces and their families called home during the Cold War Era.

It would be on the family’s return to Canada that Garneau would discover his love for the ocean and the adventure it offered. “When I was five or six and the whole family came back on the ship across the ocean,” explains Garneau. “I like being out there in the open seas sometimes it’s beautiful sometimes it’s a little rough, and it has a certain mystery to it.”

During his dad’s posting to St-Jean, Quebec, Garneau was introduced to cadets and once he was old enough he joined the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets. After graduating from high school, Garneau left home to attend College Militaire Royale in St-Jean, Quebec. The year was 1965. He attended the military college for a year and then moved on to the Royal Military College (RMC) of Canada in Kingston where he graduated in 1970 with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Physics. He served in the navy as a Navy Combat Systems Engineer, a trade he describes as one that does not become commanders of ships but provides support on the ship, similar to logistics officers.

When he talks about his time, as a sailor Garneau is quick to point out he didn’t serve in a theatre of war like the rest of his family. However, he did deploy on Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Algonquin with the Standing Naval Force Atlantic, which today is known as the Standing NATO Maritime Group One. The mission was a peacetime operation where the crew spent time in Europe. During his time in Halifax, while married to his first wife, Marc welcomed the birth of his two older children, Yves and Simone. The twins were baptized on HMCS Algonquin something Marc recalls with pride.

“In the Navy there is a ceremony where you take the ship’s bell and fill it with holy water and you christen your children. I was very, very, happy to have my kids christened on HMCS Algonquin,” shares Garneau.

While in the military Marc served on HMCS Algonquin, HMCS Saskatchewan at the Naval Engineer Unit, Naval Fleet School, and positions in Ottawa.

Marc Garneau at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)
Marc Garneau at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)

By 1983, Garneau had reached the rank of Commander and was working at headquarters in Ottawa. Although, he was not looking to leave the military he had spotted an ad in the newspaper looking for astronauts. The opportunity was through the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and it was their way of thanking Canada for developing and building the Canadarm. Garneau recalls, “I was really enjoying my job, in fact, I kind of felt bad going to my senior officer and asking if he could write a reference letter.”

Although, he loved his time in the military the winds of change were taking him on another course. The letter was written, Garneau applied, and his life quickly went in a different direction. “It changed my life. I wasn’t trying to make a change it was because I couldn’t resist. If I was successful, I would get to go into space, and that would be a really fabulous adventure.”

Thousands of Canadians applied for the program, but Garneau along with five other applicants were successful. He was seconded from the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) to the Canadian Astronaut Program (CAP) and in 1984 made history when he participated in his first flight to space on the Challenger STS-41-G. He was the first Canadian to go to space. On the flight, he held the position of payload specialist and after the mission was completed Garneau returned to Ottawa to the National Research Council where the Canadian astronauts were based. In 1989, Garneau retired from the military and remained with CAP, which changed to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) March of that year.

Along with marrying his second spouse Pamela Soame in 1992, Garneau also moved to Houston, Texas. While at the CSA Garneau participated in three flights to space all of which were shuttle flights. The time range on the flights varied between eight to10 days. Garneau explains the space programs in the United States and Canada have evolved since he was recruited. “When I first flew out, there was no International Space Station it was just a shuttle flight.”

Twelve years after his initial flight Garneau headed back to the stars in 1996 and there was still no space station, however, by the time he returned to space for his last mission in 2000 the station was beginning to be built. “I was able to contribute to building the station on my last mission,” notes Garneau.

Marc Garneau visiting Space Concordia, organized by Westmount Science Summer Camp in July of 2013
Marc Garneau visiting Space Concordia, organized by Westmount Science Summer Camp in July of 2013

Garneau logged 670 hours in space, he points out it equates to 28 days and notes, “It doesn’t compare to my colleague Chris Hadfield who recently spent five months commanding the International Space Station and the (Canadian) guy who has the record, Bob Thirst.” He adds Hadfield’s time commanding the International Space Station was a “great feather in Canada’s cap.”

He notes there was a bit of time between his last flight and returning home to Canada in 2001. When he did move back, he moved into a management position at the Canadian Space Agency. He had been offered the vice president position. “I thought it was a good time to come back to Canada, and to move into management.” A year later the agency’s president retired, and Garneau was hired to fill the top spot at the agency.

It would be in this position that Garneau would get a taste of politics in Ottawa. Being the president of the agency left Garneau spending time between Montreal and Ottawa. His new job required him to report to the Minister of Industry. “I had my first brush with Ottawa and how government works because I was responsible for $300 million a year. We had to spend that money properly,” recalls Garneau.

Marc Garneau asking a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on June 2 of 2013
Marc Garneau asking a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on June 2 of 2013

During the fourth year of his five-year mandate Garneau was approached by somebody from then Prime Minister Paul Martin’s office inquiring if Garneau would be interested in running for office. “I had always been interested in politics, and I felt I knew a little bit about how it worked,” explains Garneau. “I decided to take that leap because I thought it would be a good idea. I had the experience of a military person; I had some experience as an engineer, and I thought I could make a contribution, so that is when my political career began.”

When asked why the Liberal Party of Canada Garneau explains, “I think I have liberal values. Everybody decides what they feel most comfortable with, and I feel most comfortable calling myself a Liberal. It doesn’t mean a hundred per cent of what the Liberals believe in I believe in, but most of what they believe I do and I am very comfortable with that middle-of-the-road set of values.”

In 2005, he resigned from the Canadian Space Agency and in the 2006 federal election he ran for the seat in the riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges in Quebec. However, he lost the election to the Bloc Quebecois candidate Meili Faille by nine thousand votes. He notes he didn’t take the defeat “too personally” because the Liberal Party of Canada had held office over 12 years, and people were tired of them. “I didn’t say this is not for me, I said to myself Canadians want a change.”

Marc Garneau visiting Korean Veterans at Hampstead Park during Korea’s National Day Celebration on August 15 of 2014
Marc Garneau visiting Korean Veterans at Hampstead Park during Korea’s National Day Celebration on August 15 of 2014

Now that he was identified as a member of the Liberal Party of Canada his employment opportunities were limited and returning to the Canadian Space Agency was not an option. He enjoyed meeting people in the riding and was game to have the opportunity to be a voice for Canadians, so Garneau decided to run again. “The first time I ran I lost, but I liked it enough I stayed on and I was elected in 2008.”

For the 2008 federal election Garneau ran in the Westmount-Ville-Marie in Quebec, the riding where he lives with Pamela and their two sons Adrien and George. This time the nine thousand votes were in his favour as he won the seat by a landslide. He was re-elected in 2011, where he survived the orange crush of New Democratic Party. Garneau, along with 33 of his Liberal colleagues were able to retain their seats. However, this time Garneau won by a mere 600 votes, but he defeated the New Democratic candidate.

He has spent the last six years in Ottawa wearing a few hats for his party. He has been the Industry, Science and Technology critic, the Natural Resources critic and currently he is the Foreign Affairs critic and with all the turmoil in the world over the last year he has been kept busy. “When the leader turns to me and says what should our position be I have to provide counsel. That goes for all my colleagues as well.” Garneau also serves the constituents in his riding.

“It is never a dull moment as they say. It’s very stimulating, mentally,” admits Garneau.

With speculation of an election being called this year this retired sailor, who has crossed oceans, jetted through space and ran a Canadian Space Agency, is not done quite yet as he would like to continue to serve his constituents and the country by being part of the party in power. “I’m highly motivated to keep going because I would like to know what it feels like to be in government,” notes Garneau. “We will see how that works out.”

**This article was originally posted in our Winter 2015 issue**


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Cyndi Mills - Owner | Publisher CMF Magazine

Admittedly the Queen of Typos, Cyndi Mills strives for none, but one or two always seems to slip in. She apologizes! Over the last 29 years Cyndi has had the opportunity to move around the country with her husband, Scott and their four children. Having lived in Chilliwack, Edmonton, London, and Petawawa. She stumbled into the world of journalism by accident – looking for a career that could give her the flexibility to work from home to be with her children and support her husband's military career. Cyndi is also a military parent as her two oldest children are in the military. Raising her third and fourth teenagers, she tries to keep sane by walking, gardening, writing, and spending time with her family while running Canadian Military Family Magazine.

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