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opinion

The Conservatives have – but will soon have had – the right leader to take on Justin Trudeau. Interim leader Rona Ambrose, a youthful 47, is smart and seasoned. Atypically for her line of work, she comes across as genuine. Her understated charm nicely contrasts Mr. Trudeau's ostentatious photo-op-a-day mode of governance. It is working for him now. But the country will inevitably tire of it.

Ms. Ambrose bridges the gap between harder line conservatives and the wets, which is what her party needs. She's from Edmonton. Some think the party doesn't need another leader from Alberta. But the Conservatives have to hold the West. It is the marrow of the party, much like Quebec is for the Liberals, who have had a slew of leaders from that province. She would keep the flatlands.

There's all this, and there's the salient consideration that among leadership aspirants the Conservatives do not have an illustrious alternative to her. Nevertheless, the party is about to let Ms. Ambrose go. She has maintained she doesn't want the full-time job. Here's wagering that if the party avidly reached out to her, she would be persuaded otherwise.

Over at the New Democratic Party, the best bet for leader is Nathan Cullen. He's young, savvy, full of hiss and vinegar and has a rapier wit. But he says he doesn't want the job and the party isn't pressuring him to change his mind either. So, Mr. Trudeau gets lucky one more time.

Ms. Ambrose isn't the only one to pass on the Conservative leadership prize. Jason Kenney, who could have been formidable, has gone off to fight Alberta's battles. Among the party's marquee names, it leaves only Peter MacKay to face the race.

He and Stephen Harper teamed up for the conservatives' party merger. In a sense, it would be fitting that he follows Mr. Harper at the helm. He has been edging toward the starting line. But he is hesitant and there are many reasons, too many in fact, why he should be.

First, Mr. MacKay has already been a Tory party leader and didn't fare well. He couldn't muster new support for the party, saw little hope for its future and opted, smartly as it turned out, to merge or rather submerge it into the Canadian Alliance Party.

Second, though he held many significant portfolios in the Harper government – Foreign Affairs, Defence, Justice – he was unable to shine in any of them. He was usually under the gun for one controversy or another. Some of the criticisms were overdone, such as the brouhaha over his use of a military helicopter for a jaunt to a fishing camp. But compared to the likes of Mr. Kenney and John Baird, he lacked clout. Many hoped he would hold up the old Tory banner but he thought better of that.

Thirdly, wasn't it the Nova Scotian MacKay who was the party's heavyweight on the east coast? Shortly after he stepped out of the political arena, the Conservatives were wiped out in the four eastern provinces with the Liberals winning all 32 seats. If elected leader, Mr. MacKay would have no home base, no seat and no by-election possibility in Atlantic Canada.

Fourthly, his French language skills, like many entering or thinking of entering the leadership race, are weak. The party is feeble in Quebec, holding only 12 of 78 seats. In a French language debate, he would be hobbled.

Fifthly, there's a tradition which shows that parties winning a majority under a new leader are almost always re-elected to a second term. Mr. MacKay has to take a hard look at this. If he were to take the leadership, his chances of winning the country in 2019 would be remote. And if he did not win, that would be the end of him.

All things considered, while it must be tempting for Peter MacKay to chase the prize, it is unwise. He had his shot. He has some status in the history books as an architect of the merger. He should leave it at that.