By Alie Teachman and Mahan Nekoui
UPDATE: On 13 March, Marc Garneau announced his withdrawal from candidacy for the leadership of the Liberal party.
On Thursday morning Dr. Marc Garneau made a special appearance at his namesake school. He visited to meet with MGCI’s Moonbuggy team (MGMT). Dr. Garneau is a former astronaut, the Member of Parliament for Westmount–Ville-Marie in Quebec, and the school’s eponym. He is currently campaigning for the leadership of the federal Liberal party.
MGMT is a student-run initiative to build a vehicle that will be able to participate in NASA’s annual Moonbuggy competition. The buggy is designed to face a set of challenges similar to those experienced on the original Moonbuggy team. It will have to race across a half mile of rugged terrain in Huntsville, Alabama where the competition is to take place this coming April. There are fifteen students participating in the initiative helping to design and construct the buggy, and raise funds to make the trip south.
MGMT is one of two Canadian teams participating in the competition, the other hailing from Carleton University.
Dr. Garneau was received this morning by the Moonbuggy team, members of student council, Principal Goldenberg, and local media. The meeting took place in the school’s auto shop where the buggy is being built. He was introduced to the team and spoke to them about their journey this past year and a half to make this project happen. He was then given the opportunity to test the work in progress.
“I think that Peter Wen and his team have done an amazing job,” remarked Principal Goldenberg. “The fact that he’s been able to unite the skills of kids who wouldn’t normally work together has been my dream for Marc Garneau CI.”
The process of creating the Moonbuggy has been no small feat. The frame of the buggy is currently almost completed, but it still needs to be fitted with its second seat and the brake and steering system are under construction. With the competition approaching in April, several members of the team, including founder Peter Wen, spend up to five hours a day working on the assembly of the buggy.
Running for the leadership position of the federal Liberal party, Dr. Garneau’s platform focuses on youth employment and innovation. He was enthusiastic about the admirable work of MGMT and proud of his namesake school. Dr. Garneau agreed to sit with The Reckoner’s Mahan Nekoui to discuss MGCI, politics, and space.
NEKOUI: Dr. Garneau, what is your reaction to our school’s Moonbuggy project?
GARNEAU: I’m very impressed. A really enthusiastic bunch of students are involved with the project. This is the kind of thing that I wish was happening in many more schools across the country. It’s an initiative on the part of the students, which makes it even better. And that they take that initiative shows that they want to test and challenge themselves; it’s not easy to design something, to build it and then to organize everything around it.
MGCI is one of the most overpopulated schools in the Toronto District School Board. How do you think we should approach the problem of overcrowding in the TDSB?
Well it is a challenge. I can remember when the school was renamed the population began to increase and they added an additional floor. But I also noticed today that there are still the portables outside, and so obviously that speaks to the fact that there are a lot of students here: more than the building can accommodate. It is a provincial matter, they are responsible, but whenever possible I think that the school board needs to make adjustments because the distribution of students in Toronto and the neighbourhoods is changing all the time.
What is your stance on getting students more involved in government and in politics?
It’s very much a priority for me. I represent a riding in Montreal where there are a lot of students at two universities. I’m always carrying the message that it’s important for young people to get involved in politics. What I think will interest young people in actually going out and voting and taking an interest in political issues is if they see issues that they connect with. For example, it could be the cost of university tuition. It could be that they’re concerned about the environment; young people are sensitized about the environment in a way that wasn’t the case when I was growing up. Today we know that we are changing the environment and a lot of young people are saying, “Hey, that’s the environment I’m going to inherit one day” and that is getting people interested. Young people are looking to see: “What political party speaks to me the best and is addressing the issues I care about?”
One thing I have proposed is called a ‘preferential ballot’ so that when you vote you don’t just vote for your party, but you actually put the parties in order of preference. I think that will bring more people into voting because in some cases people feel as if their vote will be wasted. If they have the chance to put their preferences in I think it will bring out more voters, including young people.
Many students at MGCI are new to the nation. What are your thoughts on immigration and foreign policy?
Certainly with respect to immigration we will have to increase immigration in this country because otherwise we are not going to have a sufficient workforce to continue to be as prosperous as we are right now. The birthrate is low and we have a large number of people going towards retirement, and by 2031 one in four Canadians will be over 65 years old. We actually need more immigrants in this country and I’m very much in favour of a policy that brings immigrants in.
And with regards to foreign policy in the Middle East?
Canada in its foreign policy role should be trying to be making a constructive contribution in terms of trying to stabilize that part of the world. We are in Afghanistan at the moment; we have a presence there where we are trying to train the army, and trying to train the police because we are going to leave next year. And hopefully they will be sufficiently trained that they will be able to manage to keep Afghanistan stable. That is a contribution that Canada has tried to make.
Let’s move to your thoughts on the space program. What do you think is Canada’s future role in space? Do you think that government funding for the space programs in North America is sufficient?
People’s support for space programs tends to vary depending on whether everything else is going well with the economy and at the moment there are preoccupations. For example, in the US there is a 14 trillion dollar debt, and so people tend to turn away. I mention the United States because we have been a partner with them over the years and many of the things that we have done have been in partnership with them. In Canada we have our own program and we have always had our own program and will continue to do it. I’m very disturbed by the fact that the government has cut the CSA (Canadian Space Agency) budget by 10%. I think that is a mistake because that will cause the Canadian Space Agency to have to let people go and it will have to cut back on programs. And that I think is most unfortunate because the Canadian space industry in this country is a successful one and we sell to the rest of the world. This is a good sector for Canada to be pushing and when you cut back on the funding it is a big mistake.
What do you think is the future of manned space flight?
First of all I’m very proud that Chris Hadfield is up there right now. And Chris will do something that nobody has ever done: he will be the commander of the space station, which is a real feather in Canada’s cap. It is a very big responsibility for Canada to be in charge of the station for two months. That’s an incredible accomplishment. As far as future manned programs are concerned I think that other Canadians will get a chance to go to the International Space Station, I think it’ll be around for a long time, but beyond that I think that efforts will eventually focus on taking humans to an asteroid or possibly Mars or maybe back to the moon. I think there will be a continuation, but I’m not in any way worried about the continuation of the programs. I think that there is a bright future.
Do you have any final remarks for the students of your namesake school?
It’s great to be back here. I was here a year ago; I try to be here every year. I don’t manage it though. But once I think I read a tweet that someone was surprised to find out that Marc Garneau was alive. So I thought, my goodness, maybe I need to go to the school a bit more often. It’s hard to balance my schedule on the campaign trail, but I can tell you that every time I come back, I’m just so happy to be here.
Dr. Garneau, thank you for visiting our Moonbuggy team, thank you for speaking with us, and good luck on the campaign trail.