The Conservative Leadership Race Matters: Part 2

Peter MacKay was a Member of Parliament for 18 years, holding senior cabinet positions including National Defence and Foreign Affairs. He took a time out in 2015 to be with his growing family. Since 2016 he has practiced at a Toronto law firm.

He was leader of the Progressive Conservative Party after making a deal with left-leaning opponent David Orchard to not merge with the Reform Party. His subsequent choice to negotiate a merger with Reform leader Stephen Harper left Orchard supporters with a bitter taste.

He believes that his experience as a lawyer and politician in the Robert Stanfield tradition makes him the leader that Canada needs now.

Shortly before the vote last October, a story in the Globe and Mail reported groups of Conservatives organizing on his behalf as a leadership candidate if Scheer lost. Contacted by the reporter in Montreal where he was campaigning for local candidates, MacKay denied any knowledge of the activity but did not denounce it as completely inappropriate. When asked why not, he says he was on the run and had a plane to catch.

While Scheer was considering his options, MacKay made a speech saying that Scheer failed to score on an empty net and that questions about abortion and gay marriage hung around Scheer’s neck like a stinking albatross. Without disowning the thought behind the remarks, he now acknowledges that a more temperate phrasing would have been better.

He says he made his decision to be a candidate over Christmas. Since then he has been busy with Zoom calls and Facebook Live, which he finds more interactive than in-person meetings but is still missing that sense of personal connection.

MacKay has put a lot of thought into the campaign website. It provides an extensive life story, his vision, and his response to key issues. The tone is sometimes more rhetorical flourish than policy specifics: “We must accelerate and prioritize our economic recovery,” and, “I will be Canada’s jobs Prime Minister”.

Here are some of his policy positions:

  1. MacKay is not a social conservative—he told the CBC: “I am pro-choice. I am for equal marriage. I am not going to restrict access [to abortion]. I am willing to march in a parade.” He says he has had good relations with social conservative caucus members.

    He would not reopen debate on questions around reproductive rights and feels that the party agreed on that at the convention in Halifax last year. If a social conservative member were to introduce a private member’s bill on the topic there would be no consequences to that member’s caucus status.
  2. Cancel Bill C-69, which makes future oil sands development almost impossible, and C-48 that bans tanker traffic off the north coast of BC.

    He “will respect provincial regulatory autonomy in the planning and approval of all energy projects.” That includes pipelines. This effectively gives Quebec and British Columbia veto power over pipelines to tidewater.

    MacKay likes Scheer’s idea of an energy corridor that could facilitate transmissions lines for Quebec and BC hydropower as well as pipelines to both coasts for Alberta’s oil and gas. He believes that he can sell the benefits to all of the provinces.

    He says he will eliminate rail strikes and illegal blockades. He would respond to blockades indirectly, by signalling to provinces that he would support police action if they decided to do so.

  3. Liberalize benefits for veterans and provide tax benefits to employers who hire ex-military.
  4. Bring rural internet to all parts of Canada.
  5. Ensure reliable transportation for farm products, reduce red tape, and reduce certain taxes for farmers.
  6. Undo recent Liberal bill on firearms. Target violent crime that is prevalent in rural communities and urban centres, illegal guns, organized crime and smugglers.
  7. Increase military and defence spending to meet the NATO target of 2% of GDP.
  8. Make it easier for seniors to stay home: more money for home care, various tax benefits, more access to healthcare at home.
  9. Restore income splitting for small business owners.
  10. Climate change matters, but he will not commit to a goal for reducing Canada’s greenhouse gases. Here is the website’s entire content on the topic: “The carbon tax is just a tax. It gives polluters a licence to pollute. Canada is not a problem. In fact, developing Canadian resources can help lower global greenhouse gas emissions by offsetting things like coal plants in China.

    We have to do our part, but for Canada, our part is developing the cleanest, most environmentally and ethically sustainable energy sources in the world. Peter MacKay will end the carbon tax.”
  11. His content on fiscal management is even more succinct: “Get Government Finances Under Control. Rollback special powers given under COVID-19. Control growth in government bureaucracy. Put Canada on a path to return to balanced budgets.”

Other than phasing out COVID spending when possible, he promises no changes to the Liberal spending additions during their first mandate. Balancing the books will be impossible given the many spending promises described above.

MacKay’s answers to questions tend to be about the goal without much focus on how to get there. His French is best when working from a prepared text. He is easily the most experienced candidate. Whether that matters remains to be seen—former prime ministers Harper and Mulroney had no prior cabinet experience.

It is to be hoped that the hard work he and the other candidates are doing on social media will enable Conservative Party members to make a well-informed choice.


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