Jason Kenney, Peter MacKay Haven't Ruled Out Tory Leadership Run

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VANCOUVER — Conservative MP Jason Kenney says he will decide whether to jump into the party’s leadership race by the end of the summer.

Kenney told reporters he has never supported the party’s decision to call an 18-month leadership race but he thinks most serious candidates will have made their minds up before the fall.

Earlier this year, the Conservative party set May 27, 2017, as the contest date.

Weighing on his mind, Kenney said, was whether he wants to extend his political career by at least another decade.

“I’ve been in politics for 19 years, and whoever steps forward for this leadership has to be prepared to put in probably a decade or more of commitment, and that’s a long time. And so, one has to be absolutely sure it’s the right thing to do,” he said, noting the possibility that the Conservatives may not win the next election in 2019.

“I’m not driven by ego or some kind of empty ambition.”
— Jason Kenney

Kenney said he wants to ensure he is making the “maximum contribution I can to the Conservative movement and to the country” and he could be dissuaded from running if an impressive candidate stepped forward.

“If I found somebody that I thought was a better candidate, I would support them,” he said. “I’m not driven by ego or some kind of empty ambition. If I were to run, it would be because I think I have the best package of skills and the most relevant experience and convictions. It’s not just because I want to see my name on the ballot.”

Kenney said he also supports a bid by some in the party to change the rules to allow interim the leader, Rona Ambrose, to run for the permanent leadership — if she wished. She has so far said she is not interested.

conservative convention 2016
Peter MacKay poses for a photo at the Conservative party convention in Vancouver on Thursday. (Photo: Althia Raj/HuffPost Canada)

Former Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay, who is also mulling a run, seemed surprised by Kenney’s timeline.

Between taking pictures with young supporters in the convention’s main hall, he told The Huffington Post Canada that he won’t be rushed into making a decision.

“Not to sound selfish, but it will be my timeline,” he said. “I’m not dropping any time bombs.”

MacKay is talking to people and gauging levels of support for his candidacy, but what he is also trying to figure out, he said, is “if I have the fire to do it.”

Family considerations

“I have talked to my family, of course, over the last little while, but … I’m not there yet, in terms of making such a life-altering decision to come back to politics after what is a relatively short time. It’s been seven months.”

Last year, MacKay announced he was stepping down from politics to spend more time with his family. He has two young children, at home, a baby daughter and a three-year-old boy, and is currently, he said, trying to balance his new job at a Toronto law firm and the demands of family life.

“I admire the prime minister for taking on that kind of leadership role when you have little kids. You don’t have to look far at my biography to see that I grew up in a political family that didn’t make it. So it’s a big decision.”

Conservatives need a big name

Paul Forseth, a former Reform, Canadian Alliance, and Conservative MP who served from 1993 to 2006, told HuffPost he hopes that either one, if not both both, joins the race.

“I am impressed with Jason Kenney. He has never been stumped by a television camera. Never,” Forseth said. “I remember when Jason joined our caucus as this young whippersnapper and everybody is looking down the table saying who is this young kid who is a little bit full of himself and what not, but Jason has matured into being a very good speaker,” Forseth said.

“But I would also like to see Peter MacKay join the ranks.”

The Conservative party needs a big name and someone who can communicate well, he said. Noting the U.S. Republican race, Forseth said Donald Trump had really shaken up the old attitudes and the way things are done. “We need somebody that is the real deal, and maybe people will respond to it.”

kevin oleary
Kevin O'Leary is seen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on March 4, 2014 in New York City. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

On Friday, several Conservative leadership candidates and potential candidates will be featured in convention programming. Ambrose is holding a sit-down chat with the three official candidates — MPs Kellie Leitch, Maxime Bernier and Michael Chong. But Kenney, MacKay, and MP Lisa Raitt as well as TV personality Kevin O’Leary will also take part in a session on the future of the Conservative party.

O’Leary, who suggested a few months ago that he might also be interested in running for the Liberal leadership, recently bought a Conservative membership.

One party insider noted that O’Leary had bought his membership after the price had dropped.

“Like a true Conservative … or a businessman,” the Tory said with a laugh.

Some leadership contestants, and several potential candidates, including Kenney, Chong, Maxime Bernier and Tony Clement, have organized hospitality suites Friday evening hoping free booze will help attract support.

stephen harper
Former prime minister Stephen Harper waves as he steps away from the podium after addressing delegates during the 2016 Conservative party convention in Vancouver on Thursday. (Photo: Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

In a speech to delegates on Thursday, former prime minister Stephen Harper — the only since the amalgamation of the Progressive Conservative and Reform parties — urged members to unite behind the next leader.

“The past is no place to linger; now is the time to look forward,” he said.

“In 2019, perhaps more than we understand even now, our country will need a strong, united, Conservative party, ready to govern,” Harper said.

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