HALIFAX â Conservative MPs greeted the news that Peter MacKay wonât run for the Tory leadership with sadness and understanding Monday, but also with optimism that the partyâs race is now wide open.
Many Tory MPs learned of MacKayâs decision as their plane touched down in Halifax, where the national party is holding two days of a summer caucus meeting.
Peter MacKay takes part in a news conference in Ottawa, May 29, 2012. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
âIâm sure there are going to be many Conservatives across Canada who are going to be very disappointed, but I think most people would understand his reason for not running,â Ontario MP Gord Brown told The Huffington Post Canada at the Delta Hotel as current MPs and former Tory candidates checked in.
New Quebec MP Pierre Paul-Hus called it sad because MacKay is so well regarded by so many in the party.
âPolls showed he was someone people were waiting for, but at the same time, I understand,â Paul-Hus said. âHe has a family life and two very young children, so probably in his case, it is the fact that family life was too difficult to manage.â
MacKay issued a statement Monday saying he decided against running because his family is his No. 1 priority.
âHe has a family life and two very young children, so probably in his case, it is the fact that family life was too difficult to manage.â
â New Quebec MP Pierre Paul-Hus
âWhile the opportunity is exciting and the reward compelling,â MacKay wrote, âI 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 it entails.â
B.C. MP Dan Albas learned the news from HuffPost and quickly praised MacKay as one of the architects of the modern Conservative party.
âHe has done a lot for Canadian politics and, in particular, conservative politics in this country,â Albas said. He noted MacKayâs continued respect within the military for his time as defence minister, and the Victimsâ Bill of Rights that he got passed as justice minister.
MacKayâs absence now makes the race wide open, Albas said. âHaving some new people come in with new ideas is not a bad thing.
Peter MacKay stands in the House of Commons during Question Period, June 17, 2015 in Ottawa. (Photo: Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)
âIâll just remind people that when I first read that Stephen Harper was going to contest for the leadership, a lot of people didnât know who he was.â
The great thing about Canada, the B.C. MP added, is that anyone can run and be prime minister.
âI think we should keep that in mind. It shouldnât just be the Peter MacKays of the world and household names. People can make a name for themselves.â
Ontario MP Larry Miller, whoâd heard the news in the cab on the way to the hotel, said he wasnât totally surprised. âI know he was wrestling with it.â But after 18 years in politics, Miller said, the decision is understandable.
No big names running: Ontario MP
Now that âa big nameâ isnât running, Miller added, more candidates are likely to run and help rejuvenate the Tories. âItâs better for the party. I think itâs needed at this time.â
New Ontario MP Karen Vacchio was also unconcerned by MacKayâs absence from the contest.
âItâs too bad, but I look at some of the other people who I think might be putting their names forward and Iâm really excited,â she said, pointing the finger at Erin OâToole, a popular Ontario MP who ran for the interim leadership last fall.
OâToole praised MacKay and said he was pleased that the former leader of the Progressive Conservatives, who led the merger with the Canadian Alliance to reunite the right, would still be present and commenting on policy â especially in Atlantic Canada, where the Tories were shut out during the last election.
Erin O'Toole responds to a question during Question Period, May 11, 2015. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
âI know itâs a huge decision for himâŠ. Heâs older than me but has children younger than me, so I know 100 per cent the challenge that parents, men and women in public life, face, and I totally respect his decision.â
OâToole said he hoped to suss out support among the caucus and to talk to MacKay about apotential bid now that he is no longer in the race. âA ton has changed. Thatâs why you never say never in politics.â
Ontario MP Dean Allison said he would have loved to have seen MacKay run and âmost definitelyâ would have backed him, but now heâs looking at Ontario MP Lisa Raitt.
âSheâs a smart, smart woman, she has lots to offer, and I think she would be great. She has East Coast roots âŠ and sheâs from Ontario as well!â
Ontario MP Dean Allison hopes Lisa Raitt will enter the race. (Photo: Althia Raj/HuffPost Canada)
Raitt didnât want to talk about her own ambitions but wished Mackay well. âThese decisions take a lot of time. He took a lot of time and he made the decision that is best for him. Who are we to judge what is best or not best for the individual?â
She told HuffPost she has her familyâs blessing, but she wants to spend the next few days talking to her colleagues and gauging her support. âI made my decision personally, but I still need to talk to folks.â
Declared candidate Tony Clement also wished MacKay well and said he would continue to be very influential in Conservative policy debates.
"I had a lot of experience; Peter had a lot of experience. We were both party stalwarts."
â Tory MP Tony Clement
Clement, also an Ontario MP and former cabinet minister, acknowledged that Mondayâs turn of events offered him a new opportunity to court would-be MacKay supporters.
âI had a lot of experience; Peter had a lot of experience. We were both party stalwarts. Iâve been involved in the party for decades; Peter has been involved for decades,â Clement said, noting their likely appeal. âI think it gives me that opportunity to restate my case to a few people who were on the fence, and Iâm looking forward to doing that.â
There are currently five registered candidates vying for the Tory leadership: Clement, Quebec MP Maxime Bernier, Ontario MP Kellie Leitch, Calgary MP Deepak Obhrai and Ontario MP Michael Chong.
Several others, such as Saskatchewan MPs Brad Trost and Andrew Scheer, have let it be known that they intend to run but have not formally registered.