The 'stinking albatross' is now hung round Peter MacKay's neck

This boredom was resolved by Peter MacKay, who this week urged the Conservative Party to speed up the leadership contest.

Nico Johnson Montreal QC

The most terrible affliction of this pandemic, for those lucky enough to remain healthy anyway, must surely be the government-mandated boredom of self-isolation. Canadian politics has never been particularly exciting, and this combined with what is now ostensibly house-arrest, has created such a sedated condition of dreariness that I suddenly found myself in danger of becoming friends with my parents.  

Fortunately enough, this boredom was resolved by Peter MacKay, who this week urged the Conservative Party to speed up the leadership contest. Nevermind the global pandemic; or even the fact that society has ceased to function—MacKay was quite simply unwilling to let these mere frivolities get in the way of his supposed “coronation.”  

MacKay, of course, has told us (to the tune of an iPhone ringtone) that this is all in the name of freedom and democracy. This, however, was not well received on Twitter—an infallibly cynical group of people, no doubt—who saw MacKay’s statement as a mere political ploy, taking advantage of an unprecedented national crisis to further his own political ambitions.  

If the last decade has taught us anything, it must surely be that Twitter is not a particularly effective litmus test of wider public sentiment. Nevertheless, the sheer revulsion that MacKay now needlessly provoked is astonishing. Canada has shut down its borders, restaurants, and ports, and yet MacKay (a veteran politician of 23 years) believed that the public would exempt the Conservative leadership contest from these measures. Perhaps the most startling aspect of this episode is that MacKay did not foresee the reputational consequences of his tactics.

Digging the grave deeper still, MacKay proceeded to cheerfully accept an interview on the subject where he commanded the journalist to ask the other candidates “why they want to stop” the leadership election. “Because there’s a pandemic,” replied the bemused interviewer—who like the rest of us, seemed uncertain as to why MacKay was so incorrigible with his public relations disaster.

Coronavirus has forced many of us into a situation where life has been entirely transformed in only a matter of days. A few weeks ago, for instance, I had a fairly happy regiment: starting my day in The Post Millennial offices, sauntering into a cafe for lunch, and then ending it, inevitably, at the bar. Today, that bohemian lifestyle seems decades away. Perhaps this is how the public will view MacKay’s campaign: mutating from that leisurely coronation into a hard-fought slog between him and Erin O’Toole.

Like coronavirus, however, the reality is that this erosion of order was months in the making. Since MacKay’s campaign began, it has been plagued with alienating and gratuitous errors: the epilepsy inducing videos; his flip-flop on the Israeli embassy issue; his distancing of social conservatives and then the revelation of his “hidden So-Con agenda”—inflicting endless knocks to his campaign’s legitimacy. If MacKay could not handle a relatively simple leadership election, then how is he supposed to defeat the prime minister in a federal election?

The irony of all this is that he has become the very thing he ridiculed to propel his leadership bid in the first place: a politician whose campaign “was like having a breakaway on an open net and missing the net.” There is now a fairly conspicuous albatross dangling from Peter MacKay’s neck.

Having said all this, MacKay is not necessarily undeserving of the Conservative Party’s leadership. Indeed, there are strong arguments to be made over his electability and name recognition. Even after these scandals, MacKay has routinely performed well in the polls—this is not something the Conservative Party can shrug off so easily.

I was rather hoping to interview MacKay at some point before the leadership election in June. I fear, however, that this article may have just made that prospect hopeless. Perhaps after this disastrous 24-hours, I’ll find in the summer that there was never much of a need to.


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