Peter MacKay, one of the candidates running in the current Conservative leadership race, stopped in Barrie, Ont., on Thursday evening to be greeted both by supporters and a small group of protesters.
MacKay’s visit to PIE Wood Fired Pizza Joint comes one week before the deadline to register as a Conservative leadership candidate and meet the first round of requirements.
“This is a community that’s thriving. It’s a community, like many others in Ontario, that are doing really well but also facing some challenges,” MacKay told reporters Thursday.
“I wanted to come here and hear directly from people, talk about the issues that matter to them, whether they’re transportation issues, issues that have to do with the environment, the economy, issues that are relevant everywhere.”
The Conservative leadership hopeful came under fire for comments he made on Twitter recently regarding those who are blocking railways and protesting in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who are opposing the construction of the $6.6-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline.
“Enough is enough,” MacKay said in a video on Twitter Tuesday.
“We need a Prime Minister who will stand up for the rule of law, ensure that our resources get to market and not allow our economy to be hijacked by a small gang of professional protesters and thugs.”
A small group of protesters stood outside the restaurant to object to MacKay’s comments.
“This is a guy who wants to be prime minister, he wants to be a leader, but if you want to be a prime minister, you have to be a leader for all Canadians,” said Michael Speers, a protester at the event and founder of LEAP Barrie, a local group that’s confronting climate change, inequality, poverty and racism.
“He’s using language like that that’s really not helpful.”
But MacKay said the issue regarding the rail blockades and protesters is about “criminality.”
“It’s about individuals who are interfering with other people’s rights, who are blocking the safe passage of critical goods to places like Atlantic Canada, where I come from, things like propane that heat people’s houses, the ability to put food on the table, the ability to get up and go to work, the ability to travel,” the Conservative leadership candidate said.
“I’m a former prosecutor — these are acts that denote criminality.”
When it comes to other issues, MacKay said affordable housing is one that is on his radar.
“We’re about a month into this campaign,” he said. “That is one of the many issues that we are hearing from people about and looking for solutions.”
When addressing climate change, MacKay said the issue is a priority, although he doesn’t think the solution requires implementing a carbon tax.
“It’s going to be based in technology. It’s going to be based in Canada’s efforts to get liquefied natural gas,” he added.
“I think that will crack the climate change atom.”
MacKay served as a Member of Parliament from 1997 to 2015, representing ridings in Nova Scotia. He served in three cabinet positions before leaving politics to resume his legal career.
Marilyn Gladu, Erin O’Toole and Leslyn Lewis are also among those who are vying for Conservative leadership.
The Conservative leadership contest takes place on June 27 in Toronto.
— With files from Global News’ David Lao, Kerri Breen and The Canadian Press