Peter MacKay’s bumbling leadership campaign gets a much needed break

If it wasn’t enough that his Conservative Party leadership campaign has been marked by missteps, along comes Peter MacKay’s tone deaf response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic.

Despite the setbacks, MacKay remains the front-runner in a race distinguished more by those who’ve decided to leave, or refused to enter, than those who remain. Because MacKay continues to lead the field, it is so disappointing that his campaign has been more memorable for gaffs than achievements.

Things didn’t start well at MacKay’s campaign launch in New Glasgow in January when the media (which he needs to get his message and face out there) was disturbingly not allowed to ask questions after the candidate spoke. This unwillingness to be transparent evoked the days of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper when the media was viewed as an enemy.

Perhaps the campaign was on shaky ground even before this when MacKay decided to criticize current Conservative leader Andrew Scheer in the waning days of last fall’s federal campaign. Even before he was officially a leadership candidate, MacKay managed to alienate a segment of his own party who still support Scheer, and others who value loyalty.

Things did not improve on the campaign trail. While smartly trying to steer the party toward the rest of Canada on LGBTQ++ issues, the former Strait area MP then awkwardly challenged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to a fight, either on the ice or in a ring; a similar slip-up to when MacKay mocked Trudeau for practicing yoga. While meant partially in jest, these quips also showed a leadership candidate continuing to cling to an antiquated notion of masculinity, while remaining out of touch with the country he wants to lead.

Then there were the numerous communication breakdowns illustrating a profound lack of judgement on MacKay’s part for either surrounding himself with incompetetent staff, or for refusing to accept responsibility.

In the case of MacKay needling Trudeau for the purchase of a yoga mat, he blamed the ridiculed social media post on a campaign staffer, and then responded to that backlash by appearing on social media doing yoga while inexplicably wearing a pro-pipelines t-shirt. This was eerily similar to an appearance on ATV which was abruptly ended, and for which MacKay again blamed a staffer.

This brings up MacKay’s unrealistic environmental policy which seems more about protecting the fossil fuel industry than the environment. Later in February, MacKay received backlash for a deleted Twitter post that applauded citizens who took the law into their own hands to break up blockades connected to the anti-pipeline movement. Regardless of opinions on this issue, vigilantism cannot be tolerated or supported by any national political leader.

It is also in his position on pipelines where MacKay continues to perform an untenable balancing act; trying to appear as a moderate, while pandering to the right.

This political duality reared its head again when MacKay promised to eliminate the Carbon Tax but vowed that Canada will continue to try and meet emission targets established under the Paris Accord, a difficult manoeuvre given that cutting the tax will increase emissions.

This was an equally obtuse argument to MacKay’s claim that high emissions in industrialized countries are not Canada’s fault since this country pollutes less than larger countries. That’s an abdication of Canada’s responsibility to the world.

But the coup de grace for the MacKay campaign might very well be his off-key tone over the global COVID-19 pandemic. After coming out strongly in favour of continuing the leadership race for some reason, MacKay was rebuffed by the national party when it wisely decided to postpone the campaign indefinitely.

This crisis provided MacKay a real chance to stop the partisan bickering and games, work with the Prime Minister – as well as his own and other parties – and show Canadians he can be a constructive leader. That golden opportunity was squandered when MacKay put his own narrow political interests squarely ahead of his nations.

This is disturbingly reminiscent of the narcissism of other world leaders which blinds them to reality. It’s one thing to follow the examples of previous political leaders, but it’s a whole other thing to make the same mistakes.

Although he remains ahead, the MacKay campaign is stuck in a ditch, and despite what the candidate himself believes, this break may have arrived at the right time.

If MacKay is still serious about taking down the minority Liberal government not long after becoming leader, it won’t be enough to convince Conservative supporters, he has to win over the rest of the country. Based on the performance of this campaign so far, that has not happened.