Yes, Mackay Should Run 

February 1st, 2016 | J. Hodgson 


You may have read C. Wang’s recent article listing ten reasons why Peter MacKay shouldn’t run for leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. It’s probably the worst written piece that Poletical has ever published. Not only should Peter MacKay run for leadership, he needs to. It’s his destiny. Read on as I destroy Wang’s ten points without even breaking a sweat.

#1. Family

Peter MacKay cited his desire to “spend more time with his family” as a reason to leave federal politics. He seemed genuine about this decision at the time and the fact that he left the party on good terms should put to rest any notion that would suggest otherwise.

Right now MacKay has a newborn and a toddler. Their needs are great and the parenting stress is high. Sleeplessness and household management requires more energy. Leaving politics in order to be more present in early family life makes sense, but kids grow up. A 5 year old is easier to manage than a 2 year old. Harper had a young family when he was first Prime Minister and Justin Trudeau is doing it now. With a couple of state funded nannies and a conscious decision to balance the job with family life, the MacKay clan will flourish while MacKay acts as Prime Minister.

#2. Pension

Wang suggests MacKay’s pension enticed him to leave politics. Maybe he’s right, but the pension exists no matter what MacKay chooses to do for the next 30 years of his life. Freedom 55 is a 1980’s notion of the “good life”. Wandering around beaches while in the prime of your life is a waste of time and potential. MacKay has always been an ambitious guy and that’s usually not something you can just switch off, because you have a guaranteed revenue stream.

#3. Private Sector is Calling

I’m sure MacKay will have lot’s of opportunities in the private sector. I’m sure he could make tons of cash doing so. The alternative being suggested, however, isn’t just some random public sector gig. It’s the potential to be the PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA.

It’s a big deal.

The attraction isn’t a fat bank account or executive’s power, history, legacy. Sitting around a boardroom trying to figure out how hide profits for some mining enterprise is a small substitute for building a country.

“Such a waste of talent. He chose money over power. In this town, a mistake nearly everyone makes. Money is the Mcmansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after 10 years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries. I cannot respect someone who doesn't see the difference.”  Frank Underwood, House of Cards

Peter MacKay was born for politics. He thrives in it. The private sector lucre can wait.

#4. Justin Trudeau will not be easily beaten

Wang thinks Justin Trudeau is the new juggernaut of Ottawa. He’s drinking the same moonshine that the MediaParty and many other vested interests would have us drink. There’s lots of mindless celebration continuing on with this political honeymoon and I don’t expect it to subside anytime soon.

But it will.

The same characteristics that swept Justin to power will probably lead to his undoing. Little by little, familiarity will breed contempt. His celebrity strengths will wear off, and unlike long-serving Prime Ministers with more depth and scope, he’ll flounder. The Liberal Party as a whole will suffer the same incumbency fatigue that all governments face as time goes on, although perhaps faster, due to their “style-over-substance” nature.  

MacKay is the antidote to Trudeau’s “Sunny Ways” schtick. People, even non-conservatives, respect MacKay. He’s got a different energy than Harper had and a more open approach. If tone really was the problem for 2015’s election loss, then MacKay can easily correct course. The Conservative Party of Canada garnered 32% of the popular vote in 2015. With the “Stop Harper” movement over and done with, MacKay should be able to pick up 7% from the Liberals and switch places with Trudeau in 2019.

#5. Nova Scotia PC Party will soon have an opening

The Nova Scotia Liberals are popular and lead the polls in a landslide. I’m sure the potential for a provincial PC leadership run is possible for MacKay, it might even suit his timetable better assuming current leader Jamie Baillie steps down in 2018.

But it’s not the brass ring.

Why limit your potential when the PMO opportunity is a welcome mat at your feet? MacKay’s experience is on the big canvas and his abilities reach beyond the grasp of provincial politics.

#6. Association with Harper Era

People who think MacKay’s association with the Harper era is a bad thing, are people who will never vote Conservative anyway. It’s a frame that critics use as a smear. To the average voter, Peter MacKay was a competent minister with a variety of tough portfolios. He was scandal free and articulate with his positions. In short, his performance during the Harper era has made people comfortable with having him at the helm. He’s proven and likable. He’ll take the 32% of the popular vote that Harper achieved and win back centrists with his lighter touch.

#7. Peter MacKay is not a visionary

Not a visionary? He challenged the PC leadership before he even turned 40 and used his win to unite the right and crush the Liberals for 10 years!

That’s not vision?

He held the portfolios of Foreign Affairs, National Defence and Justice over the course of ten years and tried to make his mark on each department along the way. Dealing with the federal bureaucracy is like trying to turn a takes time. Nevertheless he proved himself capable and popular in the roles he played.

Let him take this time to dream up a new vision and present it over the course of the next few years. I suspect we’ll see a nice blend of Harper substance and Mulroney style that will be an easy sell to 21st century voters.

#8. Brand as a Red Tory

It always seemed weird to me that MacKay is saddled with the “Red Tory” brand. I suspect this is simply a product of his being the last Progressive Conservative leader before the party ended. Let’s quickly look at MacKay’s history.

MacKay got his law degree in 1990. After a brief foray into corporate law he decided to be a Crown Prosecutor so he could throw scumbags behind bars. He quickly realized that the liberal justice system favoured thugs over victims so he got into politics.

After learning the ropes for five years, he ran for leader of the PC party and beat out guys like Scott Brison and Jim Prentice. At the time MacKay was viewed as the “Blue Tory” who would bring back the more strident conservatives who had long since left for the Canadian Alliance. MacKay cut a support deal with a candidate named David Orchard, a more true “Red Tory” who ended up joining the Liberals in later years. The deal was controversial, but MacKay had the guts to do it in order to win. Then he merged the PCs with the Canadian Alliance, which is what he had to do (you can read about the situation inside this recent article) in order to defeat the Liberals. Then the Harper-MacKay Conservative Party took power for ten years and MacKay made a name for himself in three portfolios.

  • In Foreign Affairs, MacKay re-established Canada’s relationships with allies around the world.

  • In National Defence, MacKay ushered Canada throughout the difficult endeavour of the Afghanistan war.

  • In Justice, MacKay made Harper’s “tough on crime” agenda even tougher than ever. Cracking down on prostitution, drugs and refusing euthanasia legislation are hallmarks of his time in this portfolio. The Victim's Bill of Rights was his final achievement.

So, he’s an internationalist, a military booster and tough on crime. He’s on record supporting gun rights, stacked the courts with conservatives, introduced Bill C-51, pushed tax cuts until the end, voted to preserve the traditional definition of marriage...the list goes on.

In short, true blue conservatives can vote for the guy. Fiscal, national and social conservatives should be relatively comfortable with MacKay. Libertarians less so perhaps, although he voted in favour of repealing Section 13 of the Human Rights Act; a victory for free speech in Canada. He’s also pro-gun ownership. Remember this sweater "scandal"?

Nevertheless, he’s stuck with the Red Tory label, apparently.

I believe this can be used to Conservative advantage. True blue conservatives in this country can feel comfortable supporting him, because they know the above facts, but mild-mannered low-info voting centrists will still think of him as “Red Tory” and will be comfortable lending their vote.  

#9. The David Orchard thing

Anyone wanting to use the double-cross rhetoric in regards to this deal made 13 years ago is probably not a potential Conservative Party supporter anyway. As stated above, MacKay did what he needed to do and purging fake conservatives like David Orchard and Scott Brison in the process was a good thing. The party is more clearly defined as a result. The broken convention deal wasn’t a character flaw, it was expediency that was corrected by party members when the new party was born. MacKay did what the people wanted and what the country needed.

That’s democracy. That’s tactic. That’s leadership.

#10. Time for a female leader

Two words: Kim Campbell.

Wang cites Ken Boessenkool stating that Christy Clark, Alison Redford, Rachel Notley, Kathleen Wynne, Pauline Marois all won elections in their first time out as leaders. Yeah okay, they won. And then?

  • Christy Clark lost her own seat during British Columbia’s last election. Her Liberals won a last minute victory with a smaller share of the popular vote then Gordon Campbell won in all three of his election victories previously. The NDP have been ahead of Clark's Liberals for almost two years now. (They have yet to trail in the polls since John Horgan became leader of the NDP.)

  • Alison Redford won leadership on the third round of a preferential ballot with 51% support. She then won the general election only because left-wing Alberta voters wanted to stop Wildrose at the last minute. She then spent two years driving down support for the PCs into the teens, until being forced to resign in disgrace. (The PC party was subsequently destroyed, possibly beyond repair)

  • Rachel Notley was elected because she was sassy during a debate and low-info voters not being personally familiar with the NDP decided to do a protest vote and accidently elected her with a majority. The NDP are now falling in the polls and everyone fully expects this situation to be a one-term wonder.

  • Kathleen Wynne won in Ontario because the PCs under Hudak ran a crappy campaign. She didn’t win. Hudak lost. Polls show a Liberal loss in 2018.

  • Pauline Marois won a minority and then handed the win to Philippe Couillard’s Liberals. She resigned and disappeared.

I get the notion, put a good-looking woman in charge and offer a softer conservative sell to low-info voters that are conditioned by MediaParty campaigns to think of conservatism as Rob Fordish or Donald Trumpish. This optical idea of making a gender based leadership choice is unnecessary. Margaret Thatcher was despised by the same types of people that despised Stephen Harper. Gender won’t stop the haters from hating. Pick the best candidate because they’re the best candidate. It’s 2016.

Conclusion: Peter MacKay is legendary. He wrestled control of the old PC party away from the Joe Clark-styled leftists and proceeded to merge it with the Alliance, saving us from multiple Paul Martin majorities and setting the stage for ten years of national reform conservatism. People like him and he offers the same sort of energy and openness that Justin Trudeau has cultivated. The Conservative Party doesn’t need a makeover, it just needs a few tweaks. Peter MacKay can keep the base, bring in the centrists and move the Conservative Party toward a perfect hybrid of Harper’s incremental, managerial conservative pragmatism and Mulroney’s ambitious, dynamic conservative charm.

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