The coronation of Peter MacKay as the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada is being disrupted by one pesky agitator: Peter MacKay.
The conditions of the race have been ideal thus far for Mr. MacKay, whose greatest asset is that he is familiar. For what, exactly, it is hard to recall: He led the Progressive Conservatives into a merger with the Canadian Alliance that he promised would never happen, and he held a handful of cabinet positions in Stephen Harper’s government where he stumbled from one controversy to the next. From there, a front-running candidate has emerged.
The launch of his official candidacy had been optimal for Mr. MacKay. Candidates who would have posed urgent threats to his coronation declined to enter the fray, and his campaign quickly raised enough money to submit the full $300,000 entry fee, indicating a healthy level of support. A recent Léger poll reported a commanding lead for Mr. MacKay, who garnered 42 per cent support from Conservative-voting respondents, compared with just 6 per cent for the runner-up, Michelle Rempel Garner, who isn’t actually in the race.
For someone who has said little and offered less – other than a few meaningless observations such as “Canada is strong, because Canadians make it strong” – Mr. MacKay has enjoyed the enormous benefits of being someone who is prominent and familiar in Conservative circles.
He had been enjoying it, that is – until Mr. MacKay came along and disrupted Mr. MacKay’s stride.
On Monday, the candidate threw his campaign team under the bus when he claimed that a tweet that went out on his account fell short of his personal standards of civility. The tweet attacked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for expensing $876.95 in yoga and spa sessions when he was running for Liberal Party leader – a message that appeared to impugn Mr. Trudeau both for his masculinity (real men don’t stretch, apparently) and his spending habits (politicians may only waste money on search-and-rescue helicopters for photo-ops, apparently).
“I want to keep the tone civilized," Mr. MacKay told the CBC a few days after his tweet received a thorough lashing online. “I am not happy at the way that was put up on my site. And I voiced that to my team.”
Mr. MacKay’s fidelity to civility must be new, however, since he made a similar quip about the Prime Minister’s yoga in an earlier interview with the Toronto Sun. He also mused about fighting Mr. Trudeau under “UFC rules. Or on the ice – no headgear, no gloves,” in an interview with the National Post, where he shrugged off Mr. Trudeau’s preferred boxing ring (which, we are to infer, is the arena of gloved sissies such as Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali).
The Twitter flub might indicate a lack of a control over his own campaign team – a premise given further credence Monday after Mr. MacKay’s handlers clumsily interrupted a CTV interview when he was questioned about the tweet. But more critically, it offers a glimpse into the emptiness of Mr. MacKay’s campaign, which so far has been about echoing the consensus, moving with the wind and blaming his campaign team for something he’s been saying all along.
Indeed, Mr. MacKay has offered nothing in particular to warrant his overwhelming support from the Conservative base. He is safely against the carbon tax, mediocre in terms of French, pro-Pride parade like everyone else is now and silent on most of the big issues that risk fracturing his support.
He has recently revived the refrain that life should mean life when it comes to criminal justice, which is a curious public appeal from someone who served for years as justice minister. And he has wavered on the question of moving the Canadian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem – as if his stint as foreign affairs minister didn’t equip him with the context necessary to take a position – though he took a somewhat clearer position Tuesday after his ambivalence on the matter was reported unfavourably.
In terms of early strategy, blending in with the wallpaper might have been the best approach for Team MacKay. If he stood very still, and he didn’t make a sound, he could have coasted his way to the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada. Unfortunately for Peter MacKay, Peter MacKay has come along and derailed his momentum. The effect will be a closer scrutiny on what, exactly, this undisputed front-runner is offering – which, when you look beyond familiarity and corny slogans – hasn’t really been much of anything.
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