Somewhere, David Orchard must be having a good chuckle. Orchard felt the sting of betrayal after making a pact with rival candidate Peter MacKay in the 2003 Progressive Conservative leadership convention.
To get Orchard’s endorsement, MacKay vowed not to make any political deals with the Canadian Alliance Party.
Before the ink was even dry, MacKay and the Alliance’s Stephen Harper had reached a deal to merge the two parties into the modern Conservative Party of Canada.
Ever since, MacKay has earned a reputation as the flip-flop king.
In 2007, MacKay, then foreign affairs minister, said this: “We will not throw a member out of caucus for voting his conscience. There will be no whipping, flipping, hiring or firing on budget votes as we saw with the Liberal government.”
Tell that to Bill Casey.
Casey, a Nova Scotia Tory MP, was not happy with unilateral changes to the Atlantic Accords contained in the federal budget that same year. He voted against the budget. He was booted out of caucus.
MacKay was also front and centre in the scandal over Afghan prisoners being tortured in their own country, and well mired in obfuscation over F-35 fighter jet costs. Both played a part in a historic ruling of contempt by the Speaker of the House of Commons in 2011.
“When you throw in getting hauled out of a Newfoundland fishing camp on the public dime in a search and rescue chopper, spending $47,000 on a photo-op posing inside a plywood F-35, and not seeming to know how much anything costs when it comes to military hardware, MacKay would seem to be toast,” Michael Harris wrote in iPolitics in December 2012. “So why isn’t he?”
Harris thinks he knows: “(MacKay) has merely followed the core of Stephen Harper’s communications strategy: the Conservatives aren’t bound by the facts, they create them. What they say is fact becomes fact.”
Which all leads to the latest somersault.
Faced with extensive criticism from federal auditor general Michael Ferguson’s report released this week, Defence Minister MacKay has suddenly seen the light.
Canada’s search-and-rescue system is “not good enough,” an apparently contrite MacKay told the House Wednesday. He said he accepted the AG’s findings of inadequate staffing, old equipment and shoddy communications strategy.
What a change a year makes. This time last year, MacKay fended off cries for change from provincial politicians, federal MPs, field experts and victims’ families following the January 2012 Burton Winters tragedy.
St. John’s East MP Jack Harris was not surprised by the AG’s conclusions.
“The protection of Canadians through search and rescue should be given more priority than it is,” Harris told reporters Wednesday.
On Thursday, MacKay announced some wide-ranging changes to the system. But can we expect real action this time?
It’s a little like Charlie Brown asking Lucy if she’s going to snatch the ball away again.