Skip to main content
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay stands with his wife, Nazanin Afsham Jam, before a press conference in Stellarton, Nova Scotia, May 29, 2015. MacKay announced today his decision not to seek re-election, the second shock departure from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet this year.

DARREN PITTMAN/Reuters

Peter MacKay, one of the chief architects of the Conservative Party, is quitting federal politics – a further erosion in the bench strength of the Tories as Prime Minister Stephen Harper seeks a rare fourth consecutive term in office.

Mr. Harper joined Mr. MacKay at his retirement announcement on Friday in Nova Scotia – an apparent effort to frame this as an amicable exit rather than an abrupt departure only months before the federal election campaign expected this fall.

The Prime Minister bid farewell to Mr. MacKay with "more than just a little bit of sorrow," calling the 49-year-old MP a "historic figure" for the unite-the-right merger deal in 2003 that launched Conservative Party as a competitive force.

Story continues below advertisement

"It changed, without a shadow of a doubt, the course of Canadian politics," the Conservative Leader recalled of Mr. MacKay's decision to join his Progressive Conservatives with Mr. Harper's Canadian Alliance – a union that helped end the right's years in the political wilderness. "It took a sense of destiny, a spirit of humility and a willingness to compromise."

The Nova Scotia MP cited his young family as the reason for his departure. He and his wife, Nazanin Afshin-Jam, are expecting a second child this fall.

"I love what I do, and I love the opportunities it afforded me to help others, but simply put, I love my family more," he said.

A Conservative source said the Prime Minister's Office has known of Mr. MacKay's plans to quit for about three weeks.

"He would like to have Peter stay. … It's never been a Brian Mulroney-Joe Clark sort of situation," the Conservative source said, referring to the enmity in the 1980s between the two Progressive Conservative prime ministers.

Mr. MacKay joins more than 30 Conservative MPs who have announced their intention to step down as of the next election, including Heritage Minister Shelly Glover, International Development Minister Christian Paradis, Diane Ablonczy, first elected as a Reform Party MP in 1993, and one-time defence minister Gordon O'Connor. This represents more than 18 per cent of the current Tory caucus.

"A lot of people seem to be leaving Stephen Harper's ship these days," NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair quipped on Friday.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. MacKay, who has spent 18 years in federal politics, said he has no employment prospects yet. Conflict-of-interest legislation prevents cabinet ministers from negotiating new jobs until they leave cabinet, and the Nova Scotia MP intends to stay in the Justice portfolio until the election. "I have not sought nor secured other employment," he said on Friday.

The MP became the second-longest serving minister of National Defence in Canadian history, shepherding the final years of Canada's war in Afghanistan.

But his legacy in helping the Conservative Party win power seems to be his most enduring accomplishment, and Mr. Harper took pains on Friday to underline how the party remains united rather than split into the Reform and Red Tory factions that formed it.

Without the merger, the Conservative Leader said, in a message clearly aimed at his troops, "the lives of all of Canada's conservatives would have been bound in shallows and miseries."

Mr. Harper has lost key lieutenants in the past few years, including his closest political deputy, John Baird, who quit politics earlier this year. Former finance minister Jim Flaherty announced his exit in 2014 and died suddenly soon afterwards.

Mr. MacKay, the son of Mulroney-era cabinet minister Elmer MacKay, was the standard bearer for the more centrist, Progressive Conservative wing of the party. His departure is a serious blow for the Prime Minister.

Story continues below advertisement

Without him, the Conservatives, facing an expected surge of support for the rival Liberals in Atlantic Canada, will have to fight harder to retain his riding, Central Nova.

Mr. MacKay's continued presence over the past decade sent a message to centrist conservative voters that the new party still had room for them.

Mr. MacKay still has strong appeal among Conservative rank-and-file as evidenced by his reception at party conventions, where members throng him and heed his opinions.

For years, the Atlantic Canadian MP has been able to beat back attempts by the Reform wing of the party to alter the Conservative leadership-selection process so it gives more clout to riding associations with bigger memberships – benefiting Western Canadian and Ontario ridings.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies