OTTAWA – The deadline to enter the Conservative leadership race is still months away, but Peter MacKay said he knows he will have to make up his mind quickly.
“Obviously a decision has to be taken soon, because I don’t want to freeze people out, or influence their decisions,” said MacKay, a former Conservative cabinet minister from Nova Scotia who did not run for re-election last year.
“I suspect that that’s already happening, to some degree, so I’m very aware that a decision has to be taken soon and I’m seriously getting close to making that decision,” he said.
Conservatives say that since MacKay would be a strong contender to replace former prime minister Stephen Harper, some other potential hopefuls — and their would-be campaign organizers and financial donors — are likely waiting to see what he will do.
A similar waiting game surrounded the decision of former Harper cabinet minister Jason Kenney, but he ended up heading west to try and unite the right in Alberta as part of his campaign to be leader of its provincial Progressive Conservative party.
The federal Conservatives are to vote for a new leader at a May 27 convention and candidates have until Feb. 24 to sign up.
The cost of running for the job is $100,000, including a refundable $50,000 compliance fee.
Many suggest the race won’t actually start to take shape until after the Conservative caucus retreat in Halifax later this month and the first leadership debate Nov. 10 in Saskatoon.
MacKay, who was leader of the federal Progressive Conservative party when it merged with the Canadian Alliance to form the new Conservative party, did not reveal his personal timeline for making his choice.
“It’s getting close. If for no other reason, as I said, to give people clarity,” MacKay said.
MacKay, now working as a lawyer in Toronto, said he remains concerned about the impact that a leadership bid would have on his family.
He and his wife, human rights activist Nazanin Afshin-Jam, have two children, son Kian, 3, and daughter Valentia, who was born shortly before the federal election last fall.
“They’re still going to be small kids when May rolls around, so this is the major lens through which I’m viewing this decision: what’s in their best interest?” said MacKay.
Conservative MPs Kellie Leitch, Maxime Bernier, Michael Chong and Tony Clement have formally joined the race, but at least a dozen others are either poised to join or are contemplating a bid.
Conservative MP Lisa Raitt said she is still canvassing colleagues both in and out of caucus to gauge levels of support and see if she can put together a campaign team.
“We’ve got a little bit of time,” she said.
She also joked about putting to rest any rumours that might arise from her being seen with a crowd in Cape Breton this weekend.
“I’m not launching a leadership bid out here. I’m only getting married out here, I think,” said Raitt, the Conservative finance critic and former Harper cabinet minister.
Her wedding to Bruce Wood, president and CEO of the Hamilton Port Authority, will take place Friday in Ben Eoin, N.S.
Conservative MPs Erin O’Toole and Andrew Scheer are also expected to make their leadership intentions known this month.
Scheer’s spokeswoman Kenzie Potter said the former Speaker, who has five young children, is also considering how joining the race would affect his family.
“That’s the only reason he hasn’t full-on said yes yet,” she said.