In a shocking news item this morning, Justice Minister Peter MacKay announced that he would not be seeking re-election in this fall’s Federal Election. It’s another sudden loss for the Harper government that is going into this coming election with a further diminished bench that includes the previously announced loss of former Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages Shelly Glover.
MacKay’s had a pretty historic career. He was first elected to the House of Commons in 1997, Member of Parliament for the Progressive Conservative Party representing Central Nova. Those were dark days for the PC Party, but it was a path that led MacKay to seek the PC leadership years later, and that path led to the push to unite the right in 2003 when the PCs and the Canadian Alliance, then led by Stephen Harper, merged to become the Conservative Party of Canada.
MacKay has been at the forefront of the party ever since, and has been a minister acting in several important portfolios for the Conservative government since its election in 2006 including Foreign Minister, Minister for National Defense and, most recently, Justice Minister.
That time has not been without controversy. There was his semi-famous break-up with former MP Belinda Stronach and the alleged debate incident where he inferred she was a dog. There was also that famous fishing tip that required his “rescuing” by a Canadian Forces helicopter. And there was also the “deal with the devil,” MacKay’s agreement to not merge with the Alliance that he made with David Orchard in exchange for Orchard’s support in MacKay’s leadership bid.
But all the controversies aside, this does leave a sizable hole in the Conservative Party’s brain trust should they win another government. MacKay, despite what you may think of him, is a good politician, and is well though of on both sides of the House. He was a capable communicator, and someone that was able to act somewhat independently of the PMO. He was someone who could have capably led the party someday, and according to some people that may be his plan.
Going into a difficult and contentious campaign, perhaps MacKay senses weakness in the Conservative brand and is looking to get out before electoral disaster. Or perhaps, this is legitimately an incident where a politician wants to spend more time with his family, MacKay has a relatively new wife, a young son and a new baby on the way. What is for sure is that MacKay was the Conservatives’ primary beachhead in Atlantic Canada, and without his strong base of support in Central Nova, it might be that much harder for the party to put together the broad coalition it needs for another majority.
Time will tell.