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Peter MacKay says fall election not ‘the priority’ for the country amid coronavirus

Peter MacKay says he’s done his part to unite Canadian Conservatives ‘under one big blue tent’
Peter MacKay, former federal cabinet minister, said on Saturday that he has done his part to unite Conservative politicians across Canada 'under one big blue tent' as he announced his bid for party leadership to replace Andrew Scheer.

Peter MacKay, one of four candidates left fighting to be the next leader of the Conservative Party, says he doesn’t believe that Canadians want a federal election this fall as the country continues to grapple with the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

MacKay’s comments, made in an interview on The West Block that aired Sunday, suggest the former Tory MP and cabinet minister may not push for a fall 2020 election if he takes the helm of the party — something he said before the pandemic was declared that he would try to do.

READ MORE: Most Canadians back postponing elections until after COVID-19 pandemic: Ipsos poll

Coronavirus outbreak: Conservative leadership candidate Peter MacKay backs down from October election call
Coronavirus outbreak: Conservative leadership candidate Peter MacKay backs down from October election call

Given the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, West Block host Mercedes Stephenson asked MacKay whether he still thought the Conservatives should try to bring down the minority Liberal government in October.

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MacKay said the pandemic “has changed everything” and said he believes an “all-hands-on-deck approach” is needed right now to prioritize the health of the economy and of Canadians.

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“We need to, I believe, continue to see that people are getting back to work, that we as a country are rallying around our economy and all efforts to help those businesses and those opportunities that we know do exist in the country to reach their maximum potential,” MacKay said.

“So with Parliament scheduled to come back in the fall, it is going to require, I believe, a lot more scrutiny on the steps that the government has taken and so, as far as an election is concerned, I don’t think that that is the priority for the country.”

Peter MacKay talks pipelines, protests and more during Edmonton visit
Peter MacKay talks pipelines, protests and more during Edmonton visit

MacKay is widely considered to be one of two front-runners vying for the Tory leadership — the other being Conservative MP Erin O’Toole. The two are up against Toronto-based lawyer Leslyn Lewis and rookie Tory MP Derek Sloan.

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They’re all back in campaign mode after the leadership contest was temporarily suspended in March due to COVID-19 and resumed in late April.

READ MORE: Next Tory leader will inherit party in a strong position, Scheer says

It’s a campaign that hasn’t proven to be smooth sailing so far for MacKay. More recently, the seasoned politician had to walk back language used in a fundraising email about legislation to protect transgender rights, according to media reports.

Asked about his performance during the race so far, MacKay said “there’s always early missteps” when “building a national organization.”

“I’ve spent 18 years in the Parliament of Canada, run six elections, served in major cabinet portfolios of justice, foreign affairs and defence. I believe I’ve shown my credentials and I’ll continue to do so and speak most importantly about a positive vision for the country that unifies conservatives, that brings people together around forward-looking constructive ideas,” he said.

“And quite frankly, we have to unify as a party if we’re going to be able to get ready to replace this Liberal government that has taken this country, in my view, in the wrong direction. So that’s what my focus has been.”

READ MORE: Peter MacKay says he regrets how ‘stinking albatross’ comment was viewed

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Asked what he stands for as a candidate and what big idea he’s offering to Canadians, the longtime Nova Scotia MP said he wants to put Canada’s natural resources sector “on a stronger footing.”

Getting the country’s liquefied natural gas resources into the world market, in particular, would help Canada become more “energy independent” and result in a “a significant return on investment” that the country could reinvest into new green technologies and infrastructure, MacKay argued.

Infrastructure investments would help create more jobs and in the current context, also help Canada “move past this extremely difficult period of COVID-19 as quickly as possible,” he said.

“We saw, coming out of the recession in 2008-09, (that) going into the recession with a balanced budget was helpful, but moving deftly to get infrastructure investments moving was also a big part of what allowed Canada to recover quicker than most G7, G8 countries,” MacKay told The West Block.