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Hugh Segal on the importance of Peter MacKay

With his roots in the hard-scrabble of ‎rural Nova Scotia politics, he was key in creating a Conservative party with Red Tory voices intact


 
Jim Young/Reuters

Jim Young/Reuters

Peter MacKay and I would often rib each other. In 1998 he co-chaired my leadership campaign against Joe Clark; in 2003 I co-chaired his for what was then the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada‎. We both admitted that I had done a better job—at least that’s what his 65 per cent final ballot victory clearly implied.

The truth was and is that he was the perfect candidate, in terms of character, ability, charisma and intent. And while Red Tories like myself were pleased to support him, it was not because of some romantic belief in his philosophic adherence to Disraeli, R.B. Bennett, Bob Stanfield‎ or Bill Davis, regardless of the context or circumstance. Rather it was his competitive anti-Grit-establishment determination that evoked our loyalty.

Jean Chrétien had won a decade’s worth of elections just by showing up and watching the centre-right divide up the vote. One does not grow up in hard-scrabble ‎rural Nova Scotia politics without, as a Tory, viscerally understanding the ill winds assumed Liberal hegemony can bring—and these were his roots. Which is why he worked so hard to get the democratic representative caucus (DRC) of 12 alienated Canadian Alliance MPs to work with Clark’s Progressive Conservatives, whose ranks had swollen to 21 thanks t‎o Jean Charest’s superb 1997 campaign—and excess Liberal insensitivity to Employment Insurance exigencies in the Atlantic region. Sadly, Clark’s inability to reach out to the DRC did little to assuage their frustration with Stockwell Day.

It was important for the party that Peter MacKay win the PC leadership. He was the only sustainable and viable candidate. That he inherited a party with no money, dwindling membership and zero policy content only deepened his challenge. As for the alleged Orchard “arrangement” (in which rival candidate David Orchard threw his support behind MacKay on the condition there would be no merger with the Alliance) there was always less to it than met the eye. That Mr. Orchard has since run as a Liberal‎ sort of finishes that chapter.

Creating a new “Conservative Party of Canada” national institution may not have been on Peter MacKay’s initial agenda. But when, to his credit, Stephen Harper suggested negotiations to see what might be done, MacKay responded as a life-long Tory who had fought Liberal hegemony could: he gave his approval for the negotiations. Both sides were represented by estimable leadership figures—the Tories by Don Mazankowski, Bill Davis and Loyola Hearn, MP; the Alliance by Ray Speaker, Gerry St. Germain and Scott Reid, MP.

In the end, the decisions on a new party constitution and guiding principles having been reached (and both could have‎ come from the  PCs under Bill Davis), there was one sticking point—whether votes on policy or leadership would be by a simple party-wide majority (allowing one slightly evangelical riding in Calgary to outvote all of Atlantic Canada) or by riding delegates, eight per seat. MacKay hung in, and made it clear that with no delegates there would be no new party. Harper, to his credit, relented.

A new Conservative Party of Canada was born—with Red Tory voices and aspirations intact. That, plus MacKay’s decision not to contest the ensuing leadership of the new party‎, were his crowning achievements as a partisan leader.

His relationship with U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, his remarkable service to the Canadian Forces as a minister who went everywhere they did in the most difficult and threatening of circumstances, his convening of the Halifax Defence Forum (still an important stop on the annual‎ global defence analysis cycle), all speak to his breadth and engagement.

I remember an event in Afghanistan some years ago where the minister, the chief of the defence staff and I were touring bases in disclosed and undisclosed locations. Reaching a forward operating base in Kandahar province, the young Royal 22nd Regiment Commanding officer invited us up to a recon tower that surveyed the surrounding territory. About 2,000 yards outside the perimeter was a two-storey-high building with a Canadian armoured vehicle parked in the yard. The building‎ flew the Afghan flag.

“What is that building?” I asked.

“It was Taliban HQ for this region,” the young officer replied. “It dispensed the harshest most brutal form of Sharia law and terrorized the region.”

“What is it now?” I continued.

“A girl’s school,” was the response‎.

The minister and I exchanged knowing looks with each other.

Hugh Segal is the master of Massey College in Toronto. He served nine years as a senator and was chief of staff to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.


 

Hugh Segal on the importance of Peter MacKay

  1. If Mackay ever had ambitions to lead the party, he would know that he would have to move out of the shadows of the leader whom he put in power. He knows he would have to criticise Harper’s leadership, if he ever hoped to take over; something he can’t do now. So, behind the cloak of ‘personal reasons’ and a desire ‘to spend more time with his family,’ he moves into the private sector for a while, before returning as Harper’s successor. There isn’t anything else he can do.

    Such a planned exit from politics, with an intention to return, would require strategic thinking for which Mackay is not well known. It is difficult to imagine anyone in the Party actually voting for him, but a lot can change in the years that remain for Stephen Harper.

    Like Pierre Trudeau, Harper will leave politics when he chooses to go and he will leave without encouraging a successor. Pierre Trudeau’s foray into the leadership of the Liberal Party was encouraged, even fostered, by his predecessor Lester B. Pearson, who seemed to sense the winds blowing from Quebec before many Quebecers awakened to them.

    Harper has not taken the next leader ‘under his wing.’ In fact, his dictatorial, confrontational style has likely put anyone else’s leadership ambitions on near permanent hiatus. Without Pearson’s diplomatic skills, Harper seems alone at the top, with a fawning cadre of ‘like thinkers’ around him and a light front bench from which few of us would imagine a successor emerging any time soon.

    If Harper had the interests of his party at heart, he would have planned an orderly succession last year, rather than grasp a belief in “one more time.” There would have been time to introduce an ‘unknown’ quantity prior to this election, but he seems determined to put off that task a few more years.

  2. What could Hugh Segal possibly mean by writing: “As for the alleged Orchard ‘arrangement’ (in which rival candidate David Orchard threw his support behind MacKay on the condition there would be no merger with the Alliance) there was always less to it than met the eye. That Mr. Orchard has since run as a Liberal‎ sort of finishes that chapter.” In reality Peter “I’m not a merger candidate” MacKay put his signature on a document in which he agreed that there was to be no merger with the Canadian Alliance — a signed deal that can be seen forever on http://www.davidorchard.com — and without which he wouldn’t have become the leader of the party. Mr. Orchard fought the merger tooth and nail, including participating in a law suit along with a number of other party members, and only after the PC Party was destroyed through MacKay’s treacherous behaviour, did Mr.Orchard eventually join another party, the Liberals, three years later in 2006. Mr. Segal implies that there is something untoward for Orchard to join another party when the PC Party was long gone, a most peculiar position to take and to broadcast, as if Orchard was obligated to remain inactive in politics for the rest of his life!

  3. What do you mean by the last sentence ‘exchanged knowing looks’? One would be hard pressed to imagine a more ambiguous concluding statement.

  4. If it seems to Hugh Segal that the Orchard-MacKay agreement of the 2003 leadership race had “less to it than met the eye”, it can only be due to Mr Segal’s blindness.

    As a delegate myself, along with at least 600 others who supported Orchard in 2003 (about 25% of delegates) — most of whom paid thousands of dollars to attend this and previous PC conventions — it was no light thing that we took Peter MacKay as a man of his word.

    His signature signified serious commitment to what MacKay already publicly stated, that he was NOT a merger candidate. We expected MacKay would honour his signature on the agreement with David Orchard, which would ensure a continued place for us within the party. Orchard wanted also a full, ‘blue ribbon’ review of NAFTA, which Brian Mulroney had stated could be done as soon as five years after its launch. Orchard also wanted more emphasis on environmental protection, and rail.

    It’s not only shameful that Peter MacKay broke his written promise, but shameful too if others in his advisory circle or in the Alliance leadership gudgeoned him to reneg. The pressures from others, likely considerable, have as great or greater moral fault in urging him to break a promise. So much for political integrity.

    Mr Segal is evasive or flippant on this serious matter, which should not be glossed over.
    By MacKay reversing his commitment and allowing Alliance members to swamp and take over the party, and because of other abuses (e.g., party headquarters contrary to rules withholding substantial campaign donations to Orchard for many months), Orchard supporters were alienated and ‘unwelcomed’ in the new party. Integrity had evaporated. Elation at inclusion turned to bitter disappointment.

    Zeb Landon

  5. Furthermore, it took 2 1/2 YEARS before the “Conservative” Party returned David Orchard’s campaign funds to him, and without a penny of interest. Orchard would have had to sue for that as well! A wonderfully ethical party, as we all know!

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