In this morning’s Halifax Examiner, Tim Bousquet celebrated Peter MacKay’s decision not to run for the Conservative Party leadership by recalling the day MacKay breezed into Halifax to announce funding for the new convention centre. The then-Defence Minister said the Nova Centre would “take the ‘no’ out of Nova Scotia.”
Bousquet calls this “MacKay’s greatest legacy,” but surely that’s a hasty judgment. Picking the low point in Peter MacKay’s public career—by “greatest legacy,” Bousquet meant “low point”—is admittedly a challenge, given the rich trove of disgraceful material to choose from:
- To win the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party on the last day of May, 2003, MacKay signed a solemn agreement with rival candidate David Orchard, promising not to merge the party with right-wing Canadian Alliance, headed by Stephen Harper. Four months later, he forged an agreement with Harper to do just that.
- As Foreign Minister during the 2006 Lebanese War with Israel, MacKay led the Government of Canada in opposing a UN-sanctioned ceasefire.
- As Defence Minister, in July 2010, MacKay used a Defence Dept. helicopter to transport him from a private fishing lodge in Labrador to Gander Airport, at a cost to taxpayers of $16,000. In his first two years as Defence Minister, he spent $3 million using the federal government’s Challenger jets to ferry him to various functions, including one flight costing more than $200,000.
My money, however, is on MacKay’s character assassination of Richard Colvin, the diplomat who risked his career to speak up against the Canadian Forces’ illegal practice of turning prisoners of war and innocent Afghan civilians over to the Afghan Army to be tortured.
Channeling Joseph McCarthy, and speaking in the protected confines of the House of Commons where he could not be sued for slander, MacKay falsely savaged Colvin as a patsy for the Taliban.
Twenty-three former Canadian ambassadors wrote a letter condemning the Harper Government’s treatment of Colvin, singling out MacKay, who accused Colvin of accepting the word of “people who throw acid in the faces of schoolchildren.”
“[MacKay] savaged [Colvin] in public, and ridiculed him, and that’s not the way to treat a guy who’s doing his job,” Paul Durand, a former Canadian ambassador to the Organization of American States, to Chile and to Costa Rica, told the Globe. “He is not a whistleblower. He was hauled before a parliamentary committee and had to state the truth.”
When he declined to run for re-election last year, MacKay said, “the time has come for me to step back from public life and to concentrate on my young and growing family.”
The Occam’s razor explanation is that MacKay knew Harper’s government was headed for defeat. At best, he would return to opposition, at worst, lose his own seat.
Again yesterday, when he begged off the current Conservative Party leadership contest, MacKay cited family reasons. I suspect MacKay thinks his party will endure a long sojourn in opposition, and that while he could probably win the leadership, that victory would never lead to 24 Sussex Drive.
A better bet is that the next provincial election will end Jamie Baillie’s leadership of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party, but leave a diminished Liberal majority ripe for defeat by a new Tory leader four years hence. MacKay can take a few years to make money at the US-based global law firm Baker & McKenzie where he is now a partner, then win the premiership in 2021.
After that, who knows?