High-profile Conservative Peter MacKay will make a bid to replace Andrew Scheer as the party’s leader.
MacKay posted a tweet on Wednesday afternoon saying he is throwing his name in the ring for the Conservative leadership race. A source close to his campaign told Global News that his official launch will come next week in his former riding of Central Nova near Antigonish, N.S.
The move comes after months of speculation over whether MacKay would run to take over the top job and after he compared Scheer’s election loss to Trudeau late last year to “having a breakaway on an open net and missing the net.”
MacKay will be a frontrunner in the race alongside, potentially, Ontario Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, who is rumoured to be announcing his own bid shortly.
Roughly a week after the election, MacKay also pointed the finger squarely at Scheer’s opposition to same-sex marriage and reproductive rights as a problem for the Conservatives when it came to securing votes in the campaign.
“I think there was a number of issues that became very prevalent in this election that nobody other than the politicos wanted to talk about,” he said, referencing those two matters.
Yet MacKay, a former cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s government, denied late last year that he wanted to replace Scheer.
Scheer announced last month that he will step down once the party picks a new leader in a vote scheduled for June 27.
The rules for the leadership campaign just came out on Monday, but MacKay is so far the highest-profile contender to announce he is running.
He did not run in the 2017 race to replace Harper after the Conservatives fell in 2015 to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.
At the time, he cited his family as his top priority, although he noted that the “opportunity is exciting and the reward compelling.”
“I feel it would be asking too much of them to jump back into politics right now and the heat of a leadership campaign with all that it entails,” MacKay said.
He has two sons, ages 6 and 1, and a daughter, age 4, with spouse Nazanin Afshin-Jam, an Iranian-born human rights activist.
The longtime Tory did not run in 2015 but had served as a member of Parliament since 1997, including in senior cabinet roles such as attorney general, defence minister and minister of foreign affairs.
He was leader of the Progressive Conservative party up until it merged with Harper’s Canadian Alliance.
That 2003 merger created the modern Conservative Party, and the resulting attempts to balance the interests of social conservatives from the latter with those of fiscal conservatives from the former has been an ongoing challenge for the party, including in the last election.
MacKay’s voting record on those issues is somewhat mixed.
Like Scheer and Harper before him, he voted in the past against granting same-sex couples the right to marry.
In 2003, during debate on the plan to legalize gay marriage put forward by the Liberal government at the time, Harper introduced a motion asking the House of Commons to “reaffirm that marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others” and urging Parliament to act to preserve that definition.
MacKay voted in favour of that motion, along with Harper and also many Liberal MPs.
He argued that same-sex couples should get the same rights as married couples but instead be allowed to have some kind of registered partnership.
“I do not personally support changing the definition of marriage, and yet I am cognizant of the fact that within my own party, there is a difference of opinion, within my own family,” he said in his speech.
“I do not believe we should change the legal definition, but I do see that same-sex couples should be afforded all the rights and privileges of married couples. And domestic registered partnerships or a definition such as that would allow for this: equal treatment. To be able to say one has ‘similar’ does not mean distinctive, special or more or less. It does not negate or entitle to more or less.”
MacKay has since said he changed his position and believes same-sex couples do have the right to marry.
He voted against a motion in 2006 seeking to restore the traditional definition of marriage.
MacKay also voted against a 2012 motion by then-Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth seeking to create a special committee to review the Criminal Code provision that states complete birth marks the point at which a fetus becomes a legal human being.
That motion has been widely criticized in the years since by pro-choice advocates as an example of a back-door way for anti-choice legislators to try to erode reproductive rights, and many of the questions Scheer faced on the campaign trail were about not only his personal view on abortion but also whether he would allow Conservative MPs to introduce private member’s bills or motions that similarly sought to chip away at those rights.
MacKay also faced criticism in 2006 after a Liberal MP filed a complaint to the Speaker of the House of Commons saying that MacKay insinuated during heckling that his ex-girlfriend, Belinda Stronach — who, at the time, had recently crossed the floor to join the Liberals — was a dog.
MacKay has denied doing so.