In a reference to Andrew Scheer’s failure to defeat the governing Liberals, former Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay recently stated: “To use a good Canadian analogy, it was like having a breakaway on an open net and missing the net.” It was hardly a ringing endorsement of the current party leader.
Soon thereafter, MacKay attempted to walk back his earlier criticism, pledging his unfettered loyalty to Scheer. But the damning message had been sent, loud and clear.
Perhaps that’s to be expected from an ambitious politician aspiring for the leadership of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, especially in the cut-throat business of Canadian politics these days. Loyalty to party leader only goes so far.
And that’s something Scheer is about to find out the hard way. If the current Conservative leader thought this past election was gruelling, he should prepare himself for the coming onslaught of criticism. It’s far from certain that he will survive his coming leadership review with the same job he had going in.
Still, before Conservative members get too far ahead of themselves, they should remember that a simple change of leadership may not necessarily save them from the doldrums of the opposition benches. Not even with, say, Peter MacKay as their leader, a notion which has only gathered momentum in recent weeks.
Many will claim that MacKay will surely deliver victory to Conservatives, as he represents the more politically palpable “red tory” wing of the party. And that his extensive experience as cabinet minister leaves him uniquely qualified for the job of prime minister. Add in his good-looks and there you have it: the perfect recipe for the next Conservative prime minister!
I’m not so sure. The political saviour formula has been tried before, with mixed results. It worked wonders with Justin Trudeau, but failed miserably with Michael Ignatieff.
When searching for political parallels though, it is the comparison between MacKay and Canada’s 17th prime minister, John Turner, that should be the most worrying for Conservatives.
Like MacKay, Turner was an experienced cabinet minister, having served in such esteemed ministries as Justice and Finance. Similarly, both men have been renowned for their physical good looks and high-profile romantic lives.
It would be a mistake to think that Pierre Trudeau was always the beloved of the Liberal Party. At one point, John Turner was the so-called “golden boy” of the grits. It really was no wonder, as Turner was the more conventionally handsome of the two, and even courted Princess Margaret back in his youth.
Conversely, during his days on Parliament Hill, MacKay was voted “sexiest” MP for many years in a row. He attracted tabloid attention over his doomed romance with Conservative turncoat Belinda Stronach, as well as unsubstantiated rumours of a tryst with then-U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.
Both men also jumped ship before the inevitable wave of electoral defeat sunk their respective governments. For MacKay, this was in 2015, right before Justin Trudeau’s Liberal wave swept the country. For Turner, this was in 1975, prior to the 1979 defeat at the hands of Joe Clark.
Years later, in 1984, Liberal Party members recruited Turner as their leader and would-be saviour. Alas, he proved to be just another “yesterday’s man.” Once on the campaign trail, Turner’s legendary political instincts deserted him. That much was clear after he infamously patted the bottom of Liberal Party president Iona Campagnolo, and was scolded down in the debates by Brian Mulroney over his acceptance of countless patronage appointments.
His subsequent loss to Mulroney and the Progressive Conservatives proved to be one of the most crushing defeats ever suffered by the Liberal Party. And his tenure as prime minister was one of the briefest in Canadian history.
There is no doubt that Andrew Scheer has proven a completely uninspiring leader. But before Conservatives become too enthusiastic of a potential leadership bid from Peter MacKay, they might want to double-check that they aren’t electing their own “yesterday’s man.”
Wyatt James Schierman is a writer and political commentator from Alberta. He holds a Master’s in public policy and interned at The Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
- ANDREW COYNE: The Conservatives should perform a clean, quick coup to replace Scheer. Here's how
- Peter MacKay levels harsh criticism of Tories during panel discussion
- Peter MacKay sees rocky waters ahead for federal minority government
- JOHN DeMONT: Peter MacKay says he supports Andrew Scheer but hasn't ruled out future leadership run
- LETTER: Is Peter MacKay gearing up?
- JIM VIBERT: Peter MacKay may be taking a page from old Mulroney playbook
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019