The calling card of the Harper regime was a mean-spiritedness rarely seen in a Canadian government. The prime minister seemed to care more about hard right conservative ideology than building community and country, as evidenced by systematic slashing of funding to institutions and organizations from sea to sea to sea.
When the government realized the patience of the electorate was waning, it turned to race baiting to try and scare Canadians into voting one more time for the administration whose roots are found in the Reform Party, turned Canadian Alliance turned Conservative Party minus the progressive.
The tactics, driven by the likes of Jason Kenney, didn’t work. The party was soundly thrashed at the ballot box. Kenney found a new role in Alberta but continues to use division as his calling card.
The failure of Andrew Sheer’s leadership opened the door for the reemergence of Peter MacKay, the Pictou County native who shot to prominence as the last leader of the federal Progressive Conservative Party and a key minister in the Harper government.
While MacKay has flexed his muscle rolling out endorsements and plunking down the steep $300,000 buy in candidates must ante up, his past is coming back to bite him.
The Conservative Party of Canada exists because MacKay broke his written pledge to David Orchard not to merge with the Canadian Alliance. It was a promise he needed to make to secure the PC leadership. Trust is something every politician pays lip service to, but there are few examples – save Brian Mulroney flip-flopping on support for free trade - in Canadian history of a candidate turning his back on such a foundational promise.
In an effort to move on from his years as a Harper lieutenant (one who some insiders now describe as light on policy and the hard work front), MacKay is borrowing a page from Dennis King and attempting to position himself as a more compassionate politician.
It’s a bit of political fairy dust that quickly disappeared when his campaign released a tweet mocking Justin Trudeau for billing more than $800 in yoga lessons to his Liberal leadership campaign. It’s especially rich when you consider MacKay once used a military helicopter as a personal Uber for the non-military purpose of getting him quickly back to the mainland from an exclusive, remote fishing retreat in Labrador.
During a CTV interview, MacKay spoke of his desire to bring civility back to politics. The interviewer rightly followed up with a direct question about the tweet and whether it met his rhetoric of a kinder and gentler Peter MacKay.
The candidate threw his campaign team under the bus by claiming he disagreed with the yoga jab and was unaware of its existence until after it was sent. At this point MacKay’s overly zealous communication team cut short the interview claiming the reporter had ‘crossed a line.’
Hmmm. No she didn’t.
The line crossed is the attempt by MacKay’s team to echo Harper’s hyper control of messaging and his government’s efforts to bully media into falling into line. Nothing in the whole episode lends an iota of credence to the notion that MacKay really wants to do politics differently.
If MacKay wins it is likely he will be forced to make more appeasements to avoid worsening fractures between Harperites (primarily western Canada and led by Kenney), and progressives, needed to win seats in Ontario and Quebec. This played a large role in Sheer’s demise.
It will be a massive challenge for any candidate part of the Harper regime to overcome. It’s a challenge made more daunting if the candidate not only has a history of supporting policy actions that hurt ordinary Canadians but played fast and loose with the truth for political expediency.
Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org