If Peter MacKay has just been waiting for the right moment to run for the Conservative leadership, one wonders how much of that time he spent pondering what he’d ultimately say that was original, that made people feel he was the kind of contemporary thinker the party needed.
Because as campaign rollouts go, Mr. MacKay’s has been nothing short of disastrous.
His new ad has been widely derided on social media (I, admittedly, was an early mocker) for being the kind of vapid, facile refrain intended to sound good, but that actually means nothing: “Canada is strong, because Canadians make it strong.” It prompted an avalanche of memes, including my favourite: “The patio is currently not open because it is closed.”
You have to think Mr. MacKay’s campaign team test-marketed the ad. And it seems evident that focus groups have told the campaign they associate the candidate with the word “strength.” Or maybe the campaign has decided “strength” conjures an image that best helps differentiate their candidate from the guy they ultimately want to defeat: Justin Trudeau.
If so, that would also help explain how, in the course of media interviews, Mr. MacKay has made a point of contrasting his manliness to the Prime Minister’s. For instance, in one he said he liked staying active by playing hockey, in contrast to the PM, who prefers yoga. He took it even further in a sit-down with the National Post’s John Ivison, telling him that he’d reconsider an overture Mr. Trudeau made nine years ago when he was looking for an opponent for a charity boxing match. At the time, Mr. MacKay declined. Mr. Trudeau ultimately fought, and soundly defeated, Senator Patrick Brazeau.
Now, Mr. MacKay told the Post, he would consider such an invitation. “I’d rather fight him UFC rules,” he said. “Or on the ice – no headgear, no gloves.”
This, of course, has echoes of the ads the Conservatives once ran that mocked the Prime Minister for being a former drama teacher. The message: Do you really want someone this effete running the country? As it turned out, Canadians weren’t nearly as allergic to male former drama teachers as many inside the Conservative Party had thought.
I have no idea how central the macho image Mr. MacKay is trying to create for himself is to his campaign. But I would suggest that if it is deemed important, he is in trouble already. When you’re talking about wanting a cage match with the sitting Prime Minister to prove who the baddest political dude in the country is, you’ve got problems.
With recent announcements by Jean Charest, Rona Ambrose and Pierre Poilievre that they will not seek the party leadership, the path is clearing for a MacKay coronation. This despite speculation that former prime minister Stephen Harper is mulling a political comeback.
Personally, I see this as nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of party members residing in Alberta, who are facing the prospect of a leader who does not hail from the West and may not appreciate the degree to which conservatives there want their issues to be a central priority of the party.
In other words, it’s all about pipelines. Forget any talk about meaningful action on climate change – that’s for former drama teachers. Conservatives are about building a strong economy with the God-given resources with which we were blessed as a country.
It seems clear any serious candidate for the Conservatives is going to have to declare early and loudly that the social issues that became a “stinking albatross” for Andrew Scheer – same-sex marriage, abortion – are settled. Mr. MacKay has certainly indicated that will be his position.
Where it gets tricky for him is on the environment. He says the environment and the economy can co-exist. He believes that greenhouse-gas emissions can be brought down through technological advancement and selling clean energy – such as liquefied natural gas – overseas. He says he hasn’t seen any substantive proof that carbon taxes work.
Add all of that up, and you have nothing serious at all in terms of a credible climate plan. In fact, it sounds pretty much like what the Conservatives had going into the last election – a CO2-reduction strategy roundly condemned as a pathetic joke.
This is where the next election will be fought – not in an octagon or ice rink. And if Mr. MacKay thinks he’s going to win by propagating his pugilistic fantasies, he’s getting terrible advice.
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