Former Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay did not beat around the bush in offering his assessment of Andrew Scheer’s performance during the recent federal election campaign. Not only did Mr. Scheer miss “a breakaway on an open net” against the Liberals, his personal opinions on gay marriage and abortion hung around his neck “like a stinking albatross.”
If Mr. MacKay’s comments did not in themselves amount to a call for Mr. Scheer to step down, they certainly suggested he reconsider his vow to cling to his current job. With an automatic leadership review already scheduled for next April, the clock is effectively ticking on the Scheer era. The review spares the party the messiness of a caucus revolt before then, although many MPs and defeated candidates hope Mr. Scheer gets the message and quits before April.
Whether Mr. Scheer knows it or not, the race to replace him is already on. Supporters of Mr. MacKay didn’t even wait for the ballots to be counted to begin their campaign to draft the party’s former deputy leader. Mr. MacKay has been coy in public about his intentions.
Many moderate Tories have not forgiven Mr. MacKay for throwing them under the bus in what amounted to a reverse takeover of the Progressive Conservative Party by the Canadian Alliance in 2004. But if they hope to have any influence in prying the Conservative Party out of the hands of the small clique of Stephen Harper apologists who now control it, they best get over it.
Mr. MacKay might offer the party a way out of the wilderness in Ontario, where it has to win in the suburbs if it is to form the next government. Yet, despite holding all the big cabinet portfolios except finance under Mr. Harper, Mr. MacKay never managed to bring his French up to a level that would allow him to be taken seriously by francophone voters in Quebec.
If the Oct. 21 election proved anything, it is that a party led by a non-Quebecker is always going to struggle to win the confidence of voters in that province. Mr. Harper managed to win a majority government in 2011 with just five seats from Quebec, but Tories are kidding themselves if they think they could repeat that exploit in the future.
Besides, why would they even want to try?
That leaves two names at the top of the list of potential successors to Mr. Scheer: Caroline Mulroney and Michael Fortier. Both are considered by Tories in the know to be interested in the job. Ms. Mulroney would like to spend more time as Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Transportation Minister before moving to federal politics. She may not have that option.
The daughter of former prime minister Brian Mulroney has spent recent months rebuilding bridges with Ontario’s francophone community after Premier Doug Ford’s government nixed plans to fund the creation of a French-language university in the province. The move played especially badly in Quebec, but Ms. Mulroney recently came to an agreement with Ottawa to jointly fund the project, with the feds handling the upfront costs and Ontario paying later.
Ms. Mulroney, 45, headlined a fundraiser for federal Tories at the prestigious St. James Club in her hometown of Montreal in August, drawing a who’s who of Mulroney fans. Her 80-year-old father would not say no to seeing his daughter follow in his footsteps, reminding anyone who has forgotten that the boy from Baie-Comeau twice swept Quebec in 1984 and 1988.
Mr. Fortier, 57, ran unsuccessfully for the federal PC leadership in 1998. In 2006, Mr. Harper named him to the Senate and to his cabinet, as public-works minister, passing over the party’s 10 elected Quebec MPs. But after losing his bid for a House of Commons seat in 2008, Mr. Fortier returned to a lucrative career in investment banking, currently with RBC Capital Markets.
His name has been on plenty of lips, however, since his star turn as an election-night commentator on Radio-Canada. In recent columns in La Presse, he laid out a moderate path forward for the Tories that emphasizes tax competitiveness, serious environmental policies and a more constructive role for Canada abroad. He has been critical of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, whom he accuses of grandstanding and souring Canada’s relationships with three of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
Mr. Fortier is a more natural communicator than Ms. Mulroney, in both official languages. But he has let many of his Tory ties wither in recent years and would start with an organizational disadvantage. Ms. Mulroney already has a recent leadership campaign under her belt and attracted big-name Bay Street donors during her 2018 bid for the Ontario PC leadership.
Either one of them, however, could make the Tories a contender again in Quebec.
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