Peter MacKay says he’s not organizing a leadership bid against Andrew Scheer a day after the former cabinet minister blamed the Conservative Leader for the party’s election loss.
In the harshest public comments against Mr. Scheer since last week’s election, Mr. MacKay on Wednesday compared the Conservative Leader’s chances in the election to "having a breakaway on an open net and missing.”
Mr. MacKay told a panel at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington that Mr. Scheer lost because he failed to deal with questions about his socially conservative views on abortion and same-sex marriage. Which he said “hung around Andrew Scheer’s neck like a stinking albatross."
Then just before 1 a.m. eastern time on Thursday, Mr. MacKay tried to walk back his comments, saying on Twitter that he didn’t mean to attack Mr. Scheer personally.
“I’ve repeatedly said I support @AndrewScheer,” Mr. MacKay wrote. He added that he worked very hard to help him during the campaign and reports that he is organizing are “false.”
He said his comments Wednesday were about the “party’s shortcomings” and “making the necessary improvements” with “modern policies” and better communications.
His comments fuelled speculation about a potential leadership bid, which started before the election campaign was even over. Midway through the campaign, The Globe and Mail reported, some Tory insiders had begun laying the groundwork for a leadership bid by Mr. MacKay.
After his panel discussion, Mr. MacKay would only give qualified support for the Conservative Leader, telling reporters he will support Mr. Scheer “as long as he is leader of the Conservative Party.”
Mr. MacKay’s comments come at a precarious time for Mr. Scheer, as he and his allies try to tamp down leadership questions after his failure to unseat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The Conservative Leader has been huddled with his inner circle this week, meeting with senior MPs as he maps out a strategy to hold onto his post.
The election loss triggered an automatic leadership vote, which Mr. Scheer will face at the party’s April convention. His first hurdle will come next week when he faces his new caucus for the first time.
One Conservative MP said they expect the meeting to be tense. The MP, who is not being identified by The Globe so they could speak about internal party matters, also said they expected Mr. Scheer will make changes in the senior ranks of his staff. On Tuesday, Conservative MP Mark Strahl said the party is reviewing everything from staffing to policies after the loss.
Before Mr. MacKay could downplay the criticism, it had already prompted a sharp exchange from former Conservative caucus colleagues on Twitter.
“Big words for someone who didn’t even suit up and get on the ice,” Conservative MP Chris Warkentin, who is a senior member of Mr. Scheer’s team, said on Twitter in response to Mr. MacKay’s first comments.
To which former Conservative MP Alex Nuttall told Mr. Warkentin to “have some respect for the man who gave up his leadership to unite the right so people like you could get elected."
Mr. MacKay, a former Nova Scotia MP, was the last leader of the Progressive Conservative party before it merged with the Reform party to create the Conservative Party in 2003. He stepped down from politics in 2015 but has never ruled out a future leadership bid.
With files from Adrian Morrow in Washington