First, a personal message to Peter MacKay: Don’t go! Conservatives need you in Ottawa!
I first met Peter MacKay during the annual Terry Fox run when I lived in Ottawa a few years ago. I was a Progressive Conservative then and was happy to see the Leader out for a jog to honour Fox and to raise awareness of the run.
Thousands ran along the Rideau canal that year and I remember taking advantage of every water station along the way to cool off. Deputy PM and finance minister John Manley was also running to support Terry.
MacKay and Manley both finished the run (they didn’t run together) and after letting him catch his breath, I went over to chat with the leader of the PC party. I asked him what the next Parliamentary session had in store and how ‘we’ were going to defeat the Liberals. I told MacKay that I’d like to help and that he told me to contact the party to get involved.
A few months later, I was happy to learn that the PC party and the Canadian Alliance announced that merger talks had been successful. It was good to hear that MacKay was as instrumental in the merger as Stephen Harper and when Harper later was elected leader of the new Conservative Party, the gesture towards MacKay (who didn’t run) to make him deputy leader was particularly encouraging.
However, as with any marriage, there were squabbles. During the Montreal convention in March, there was news of an argument between Harper’s people and MacKay’s people regarding the ‘one member, one vote’ controversy issue. It was widely reported that MacKay questioned the health of the merger when he learned that Scott Reid (friend of Stephen Harper) was pushing the ‘one member, one vote’ idea. This measure would have been particularly beneficial to Alberta members and leadership contenders (as the membership is highly concentrated in the west) and harmful to anyone who depended upon support east of central Ontario. Members had complained about Belinda Stronach’s ’empty’ support from Quebec ridings as 100 CPC members from Quebec City voting for Stronach’s leadership equaled 5000 CPC members voting for Harper’s leadership in Calgary Southwest. While nodding towards Reid’s very democratic position, I felt that the party still required stronger pan-Canadian roots. It was reported that Stephen Harper “kicked a chair” when he heard the news about MacKay’s public disappointment. This apparent “rift” was reported by the press that night and was read by the delegates the next morning in the Montreal press as they prepared, that day, to arrive at the convention centre to vote on that very issue. MacKay’s position was overwhelmingly supported by the delegates in an apparent attempt for party unity. MacKay’s defended the interests of central and eastern conservatives while defending an original condition of the merger. It was a bold political move by MacKay and while it ruffled a few feathers west of Ontario, it ensured unity of the party and a party better equipped to build itself in areas without traditional support. However, as some observers will say, MacKay’s actions scuffed the polish that Harper was trying to put on the party that weekend.
Peter MacKay has been described by the national media lately as the leader of the “progressive” wing of the Conservative Party. The media has described him as the most vocal “progressive” voice. I believe that MacKay’s ideology fits well within the centre-right perspective of the Conservative party and thus his views do not represent a separate faction of thought. The principal “progressive” issue that arose in recent history was the Civil Marriage Act (C-38). MacKay voted against the bill while former Alliance MP James Moore voted for it. However, it can be said that MacKay does continue to defend the position of central and eastern Conservative MPs and is an important part of Conservative Party unity.
Will MacKay go because Stephen Harper didn’t call?
Likely not. MacKay is more visible and influential as deputy leader of the Conservative party than he would be as Premier of Nova Scotia. Even though MacKay and Harper don’t play rugby together, it’s been said that they do have a good professional relationship. Peter MacKay has the respect of the Stephen Harper and of the Conservative Party membership.
Did Stephen Harper even need to call?
Not really. MacKay has already told Stephen Harper that he intends to stay in federal politics, so why would Harper call him and ask him to stay?
Where does MacKay have a better chance of becoming Prime Minister?
If it can assumed that MacKay has aspirations of becoming the Prime Minister of Canada…
If Peter MacKay left to become Premier of Nova Scotia, it would give him another leadership role to add to his electoral résumé. However, this move would remove him from the national mindset as Nova Scotian politics are not often found in the glare of the national media. Stephen Harper has one more shot at becoming Prime Minister, in my opinion. Parties, regardless of their ideologies, do not often support a leader after he or she has had a couple of tries. If the country is unfortunate enough to see Stephen Harper lose the next election, a leadership election is likely (without Harper as a candidate) and MacKay and the party would see MacKay as a front-runner.
What decision would be better for the party?
The party would benefit tremendously if Peter MacKay stayed put. He’s well liked within the party and is one of the best performers on Stephen Harper’s front bench. Peter also has the ability to speak to constituents on a genuine level. People easily relate to Peter Mackay. If MacKay left, it would be a big loss for the CPC.
So what is this all about then?
Peter MacKay gets a few free cycles of national media attention. This ultimately helps his image, and will help the CPC’s image when he chooses to stay.
UPDATE: If you want Peter MacKay’s personal opinion, it’s available in video format front and centre on his website. Here’s the video.