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Federal Conservative MP Peter MacKay, right, is greeted by his father and former Tory cabinet minister Elmer MacKay after arriving at his campaign headquarters in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, on Oct. 14, 2008.Mike Dembeck/The Canadian Press

A veteran cabinet minister under Brian Mulroney says the evolution of the Conservative Party is an inevitability that some critical veteran party members should accept.

Elmer MacKay made the comment Monday, responding to concerns expressed by former Conservative senator Marjory LeBreton and prime minister Brian Mulroney about the direction of the party during the current leadership race.

”It’s fashionable to say that a party has lost its direction. You could say that about any of the parties. I don’t think that the Conservative Party has lost its direction,” Mr. MacKay, 85, said from his Nova Scotia home.

Also Monday, Mr. MacKay – solicitor-general, national revenue minister and public works minister under Mr. Mulroney in the 1980s and 1990s – said he was supporting Pierre Poilievre for the Conservative leadership, partly because the Ottawa MP has qualities akin to Mr. Mulroney, who led the Progressive Conservative party.

Ms. LeBreton – who worked with Progressive Conservative leaders from the 1960s until the 1990s before being appointed to the Senate – said on Global News over the weekend that she is concerned about the direction that Mr. Poilievre is taking the party in as he seeks its leadership.

Ms. LeBreton said that Conservative leadership candidates jumping on the “grievance brigade” is doing a “disservice” not only to the party but to the country.

And she said the “great accommodation” reached in 2003 between Stephen Harper as leader of the Canadian Alliance and former Progressive Conservative leader Peter MacKay – Elmer MacKay’s son – is “fracturing beyond repair.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Mulroney recently said, according to the La Presse newspaper, that he no longer recognizes himself in the current Conservative Party.

Mr. MacKay said he certainly sees himself in the current Conservative Party. “I think it’s kind of a hazard for people like Marjory LeBreton and a few others to maybe say that because they have certain opinions that the party has left them rather they have left the party,” he said.

“I’ve seen supposedly very loyal conservatives, for reasons of personal pique, leave the party and then say, ‘Oh. It’s not my fault. It’s the party’s fault,’” said Mr. MacKay, an MP from 1971 to 1993 aside from a year in which he stood aside while Mr. Mulroney represented his Central Nova riding.

“You’ve got to keep the spirit of team support together with any sense of personal grievance you have. It’s easy to pick up your marbles and walk home.”

He said there are qualities he likes in the candidates for the Conservative leadership, but he thinks Mr. Poilievre is an independent thinker, with a “forthright and courageous approach” who does not back down on his principles.

Mr. MacKay defended Mr. Poilievre’s call to fire the governor of the Bank of Canada, noting many people are frustrated with the bank’s actions on inflation. “I don’t want to interpret what Pierre said, but what he was getting at is the Bank of Canada needs a second look, and they don’t necessarily have all the answers.”

Of Mr. Poilievre’s support for the convoy protests, Mr. MacKay said Mr. Poilievre was advocating for a fair hearing for the protesters. “I think it a shame that the government was so quick and other people so quick to focus on the malcontents rather than the heart of the people who came so far, so long to try to get a hearing,” he said.

“I just like the guy and I see some of the qualities in him that I saw in Brian Mulroney when our party was down in the doldrums and we were going very slow and [not getting] anywhere under Joe Clark and it struck me that Mulroney was someone who had the potential to change things. I feel the same way about Pierre Poilievre.”

In 1983, Mr. Mulroney succeeded Joe Clark as Progressive Conservative leader, and led the party to winning 211 of 282 seats in the 1984 election campaign.

Mr. MacKay said Mr. Poilievre’s “greatest hazard” would be to let his critics categorize him as an extremist. “I am convinced that he’s not. If he was, I wouldn’t be backing him so enthusiastically,” he said.

Mr. MacKay said his son, Peter, has his own views on the leadership race. In a tweet in April, Peter MacKay, a cabinet minister under Mr. Harper, posted a photo with former MP Leona Alleslev, then in the leadership race, and wrote that he was proud to support all candidates when and where he could. Peter didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The Conservatives are set to announce their new leader, based on a mail-in vote, on Sept. 10. Ontario MPs Scott Aitchison, Leslyn Lewis and Mr. Poilievre are running as is former Quebec premier Jean Charest, Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown and Roman Baber, a former member of the Ontario legislature.

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