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Conservative leadership candidate Peter MacKay speaks to supporters at a meet and greet event in Ottawa, on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020.The Canadian Press

Federal Conservative leadership candidate Peter MacKay says he regrets how some people interpreted his comment that current Leader Andrew Scheer’s socially conservative values were a “stinking albatross.”

Mr. MacKay made the remark after the previous federal election in referring to how Mr. Scheer was dogged by questions during the campaign and afterwards about same-sex marriage and abortion.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney referenced Mr. MacKay’s comment in an e-mail this week in which Mr. Kenney endorsed leadership candidate Erin O’Toole.

“I regret the way people have interpreted it, how it was torqued, how it was misconstrued and it might have been a little raw at the time,” Mr. MacKay said during a campaign stop Friday in Mr. Scheer’s hometown of Regina.

“But I think as Conservatives if we want to win, we’ve got to be honest with ourselves. We have to address some of the shortcomings that Canadians saw in our campaign the last time, and we have to be a little bit more forward-looking and optimistic, and putting things in the window that people can vote for, not just against.”

Mr. MacKay – who says he’s pro-choice and for equal marriage – said his comment was based on the poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which he read as a child.

The poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge tells the story of a sailor who kills an albatross. His crewmates hang the dead bird around his neck to remind him of what he’s done and he can’t get rid of it.

Mr. MacKay said he’s focused on the economy and is pitching a more centrist and moderate message than Mr. Scheer, whose roots in Saskatchewan added to the party’s popularity in the province that sent only Conservative MPs to Ottawa. Even long-time Regina Liberal MP and cabinet minister Ralph Goodale was defeated.

Despite Mr. Kenney’s endorsement of Mr. O’Toole, Mr. MacKay said he’s confident his support in the West is strong. He said he views himself as aligned with both Mr. Kenney and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe over their concerns with how the federal Liberal government has handled the economy and a carbon tax.

A spokesman for Mr. Moe said the premier will not endorse anyone in the race.

Mr. MacKay said he believes Conservatives will continue to perform well in Saskatchewan and Alberta, although they need to grow elsewhere.

“People need to see themselves in this party. It needs to modernize. We have to have a comprehensive plan for the environment.

“It’s not enough to just say we’ll get rid of the carbon tax. We have to say what we’ll do to address escalating greenhouse gas emissions.”