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Some enchanted evening

Condoleezza Rice credits Peter MacKay with helping her decide not to quit her job


 

In her new political memoir, No Higher Honor, Condoleezza Rice devotes little ink to her dealings with Canada. There are fleeting, subclause-length mentions of Canada’s role in Haiti and Afghanistan. Former prime minister Jean Chrétien rates a full sentence for blasting a speech in which George W. Bush called for the ouster of Yasser Arafat.

And then there is Peter MacKay. He gets almost a page.

It turns out their evening together in Nova Scotia, in 2006, was more than just grist for the gossip mill—Rice credits it with helping her decide not to quit her job.

In 2006, the secretary of state was embroiled in “intense” internal White House confrontations over detainee policies, while externally defending the administration’s actions to reporters and foreign governments. By Sept. 11, 2006, she felt ready to leave: “I have been doing this too long, I thought. Tomorrow I am going to tell the President that I want to leave at the end of the year. I can’t do this anymore.”

But first she had a trip scheduled to Canada—to Nova Scotia to thank Canadians for taking in stranded American air travellers on 9/11. Her host was then-foreign affairs minister Peter MacKay.

“Peter, who is single, hosted me for a ‘family’ dinner at a lodge on the Atlantic coast. It was just what I needed—relaxed and low-key. That night I slept very well with the cool ocean breeze coming through my open window. The next morning, Peter and I walked to a local coffee shop for breakfast.”

When MacKay described the open window and the quality of her sleep at their joint press conference, Rice writes, “I immediately heard a soft snicker among the crowd, and I tried to laugh his comment off at the beginning of my speech. But the scene had been set.”

The New York Times reported “our supposed flirtation” and noted “the foreign minister’s good looks and my black pencil skirt,” writes Rice, making “a mountain out of a molehill.”

But it wasn’t without consequence. Rice continues: “I have to admit it was kind of funny, if misdirected. When I got home, I called Peter. ‘A girl can’t be seen with you without some scandal,’ I joked. Peter was kind of embarrassed. He is a good friend. And I’ve never told him that without the levity and refreshment of that visit, I might not have regrouped and returned to Washington to fight another day.”


 

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