Former Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay has likened his party’s recent electoral defeat to failing to score on an open net.
MacKay, who was mentioned as a potential future replacement for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer even before the votes were cast, made the eyebrow-raising remarks Tuesday during a panel discussion at the Wilson Center’s Canada Institute in Washington D.C..
Sarah Goldfeder, a principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group, said that it felt, before the campaign, that a “series of missteps” from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had made the election Scheer’s to lose.
“What I’m going to do is ask the question that everyone is thinking,” she said. “What exactly happened?”
“Yeah, to use a good Canadian analogy, it was like having a breakaway on an open net and missing the net,” MacKay responded, sparking laughter.
Watch: Scheer says he plans to remain Conservative leader
The former Nova Scotia MP referenced both Trudeau’s ill-fated trip to India and the ongoing SNC-Lavalin affair as key vulnerabilities. But, he suggested, Scheer was unable to capitalize because of lingering questions about his personal views on abortion and gay marriage.
“People did not want to talk about reproductive rights. They didn’t want to talk about revisiting the issue of same-sex marriage. And yet that was thrust onto the agenda and hung around Andrew Scheer’s neck like a stinking albatross, quite frankly,” MacKay said.
“And he wasn’t able to deftly deal with those issues when the opportunities arose. And I think among female voters, in particular, and those who would have been impacted by any re-visitation, it created a nervousness or it took them out of their comfort zone, if they were considering voting Conservative.”
MacKay told the group that while Scheer had and has “no intention” of touching either issues, which is the same approach as former prime minister Stephen Harper, an “aura” was created that made a difference in the end.
MacKay also said Scheer wasn’t able to “fill in the blanks” on a key campaign pledge to create a coast-to-coast energy corridor, saying the proposal “didn’t catch on” and wasn’t much of a factor in the vote.
“I think Canadians were not enthusiastic or let’s say inspired by either vision of either party,” he said, referring to the Tories and Liberals.
His remarks can be seen in the video below, at around the 40:00 mark:
MacKay later took to Twitter to reiterate his support for Scheer and say his comments were about the party making “necessary improvements” with “modern policies” and better communications.
But his remarks clearly did not sit well with Alberta Conservative MP Chris Warkentin, a key Scheer ally, who tweeted: “Big words for someone who didn’t even suit up and get on the ice.”
That drew a response from outgoing Ontario MP Alex Nuttall, who reminded Warkentin of MacKay’s efforts to “unite the right” in 2003. MacKay was the leader of the Progressive Conservatives when that party merged with the Canadian Alliance to become the modern Conservative party.
MacKay’s words come on the heels of two reports suggesting he is being pressured to consider a future bid for the Tory leadership. Scheer faces an automatic review from party members in April which could trigger another leadership race.
On Oct. 11, just 10 days before the vote, The Globe and Mail reported that MacKay’s allies in the party were laying the groundwork for a possible leadership run if Scheer proved unable to win government. MacKay told the newspaper at the time he supported Scheer and was not “entertaining” the idea at all.
John Capobianco, a party insider quoted in the Globe piece, later took to Twitter to apologize for giving the impression he did not support Scheer.
Former Tory MP Terence Young, whose comeback bid fell flat in Oakville, Ont., also told The Globe this week that he hopes Scheer’s leadership review triggers a new race and that MacKay runs to replace him because he is able to “connect with people and is principled.” Again, MacKay told the paper he still supports Scheer.
While Scheer has received the public backing of some key figures in the party — and has reportedly been buoyed behind the scenes by Harper — cracks are starting to form.
Over the weekend, Harper’s former press secretary, Sara MacIntyre, tweeted that she no longer supports the party with Scheer at the helm because of his refusal to march in Pride parades.
And, on Tuesday, Conservative Sen. Jean-Guy Dagenais told Le Devoir that he believes Scheer should step down.
“In Quebec, his position on abortion hurt him. And if he leads the party in the next election, he is going to have a lot of troubles in Quebec, that is absolutely clear and certain,” he said.