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May 5, 2008

Wikipedia: Peter MacKay

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Hon. Peter Gordon MacKay
Peter MacKay

Member of Parliament
for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough
In office
1997 – 2004
Preceded by Roseanne Skoke

Member of Parliament
for Central Nova
Assumed office
Preceded by New riding

Born September 27, 1965 (1965-09-27) (age 42)
Flag of Canada New Glasgow, Nova Scotia
Political party Conservative Party of Canada
Other political
PC Party of Canada
Spouse Single
Residence Pictou, Nova Scotia
Profession Crown Attorney, lawyer
Cabinet Minister of National Defence
Minister for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency

Peter Gordon MacKay, PC, QC, MP (born September 27, 1965) serves as the member of Parliament (MP) for Central Nova, Nova Scotia, Canada’s Minister of National Defence and Minister for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

MacKay was the final leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada (PC Party). On October 15, 2003, he and Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper agreed to merge the two parties, forming the Conservative Party of Canada. In December 2003, members of both parties ratified the merger.


Early life and career

MacKay was born in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, the son of PC cabinet minister and lumber businessman Elmer MacKay. His mother, Macha MacKay, is a psychologist and peace activist, living in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, where Peter grew up with his three siblings. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Acadia University in 1987, MacKay then studied Law at Dalhousie University and was called to the Nova Scotia Bar in June 1991. He worked for Thyssen Henschel, German defense contractor, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and in Düsseldorf and Kassel, Germany.

In 1993, MacKay accepted an appointment as Crown Attorney for the Central Region of Nova Scotia. He prosecuted cases at all levels, including youth and provincial courts as well as the Supreme Court of Canada. MacKay has publicly stated that the major impetus for his entry into federal politics were his frustrations with the shortcomings in the justice system, particularly his perception that the courts do not care about the impact crime has on victims.

Member of Parliament

MacKay was first elected to the Canadian House of Commons in the June 2, 1997 federal election for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, a riding in northeastern Nova Scotia. He was one of a handful of newly elected “Young Turk” PC MPs (including John Herron, André Bachand and Scott Brison), who were under 35 years old when elected and were considered the future leadership material that might restore the ailing Tories to their glory days. In his first term of office, MacKay served as Justice Critic and House Leader for the Progressive Conservative parliamentary caucus. MacKay was the Tory member of the Board of Internal Economy and the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. He also acted as an associate member of the Standing Committees on Canadian Heritage, Finance and the sub-committee on the Study of Sport.

MacKay was re-elected in the 2000 federal election and was frequently touted by the media as a possible successor to PC Party leader Joe Clark. Many of his initial supporters referred to his strong performances in the House of Commons and magnetism as key attributes that would make him a popular leader. MacKay has been voted the “sexiest male MP in the House of Commons” by the Hill Times (a Parliament Hill newspaper) for six years in a row. When asked in a 2001 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation documentary on the resurgence of the PC Party if he would ever consider running for the PC leadership, MacKay quipped, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned in politics it’s ‘never say never.’ Jean Charest taught me that.”

In August 2001, he was one of several PC MPs to engage in open cooperation talks with disaffected Canadian Alliance MPs in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec. Eventually a union of sorts was created between the PCs and the newly formed Democratic Representative Caucus (DRC). MacKay was appointed House Leader of the new PC-DR Parliamentary Coalition Caucus when it was formally recognized as a political body on September 10, 2001. The PC-DR initiative collapsed in April 2002, raising questions about Clark’s leadership. Clark announced his impending resignation as party leader at the PC Party’s bi-annual convention held in Edmonton, Alberta in August 2002. MacKay’s name was one of the first to be raised as a possible leadership contender.

2003 leadership race

MacKay ultimately waited to announce his candidacy until many of the “dream candidates” such as provincial Progressive Conservative Premiers Bernard Lord, Mike Harris and Ralph Klein clearly stated their intentions not to run for the leadership. MacKay formally launched his leadership campaign in his hometown of New Glasgow in January 2003. From the onset of the campaign, MacKay insisted that he was “not a merger candidate,” and that his primary goal upon assuming the leadership, would be rebuilding the fractured conservative movement from within the PC tent. For much of the race, MacKay was perceived as the clear front-runner. Several opponents, including United Alternative candidate and former PC Party Treasurer Jim Prentice, social conservative candidate Craig Chandler and Red Tory Nova Scotia MP Scott Brison, painted MacKay as a status quo or establishment candidate who could effectively question the Prime Minister, but could never be the Prime Minister.

MacKay’s campaign was largely based on his charisma and popularity rather than on policies or new directions. The leadership campaign was challenging for MacKay who described it near the end as “bitter and resentful.” His leadership opponents questioned him on a number of issues and from both the progressive and conservative sides of the party’s political spectrum. His perceived waffling on the merger issue, his inability to make clear statements on key PC foreign policy platforms and his tough “law and order” stances on justice issues were all challenged by his competitors. Ultimately, MacKay is largely viewed by political analysts as a Blue Tory. While his fiscal conservatism has never been questioned, he remains ambiguously unsupportive of social issues such as same-sex marriage and the decriminalization of marijuana, which alienated him somewhat from the influential Red Tory wing of the PC Party. MacKay generally takes a conservative view towards foreign policy issues, his support of the 2003 invasion of Iraq being a prime example.

Convention and controversy

MacKay entered the first ballot of the PC leadership convention held on May 31, 2003 with roughly 41% of the delegates supporting him. However, on the second ballot, MacKay’s support dropped to 39%. On the third ballot, MacKay’s support reached 45% but many of his supporters were convinced that he had hit his popular peak. Some analysts noted that the eliminated third-place challenger David Orchard, drew his 25% bulk of delegate supporters largely from the Western prairie provinces. All camps were aware that Orchard would likely walk out of the convention if he failed to win the leadership again, freeing up his delegates to vote as they wished. The second-place candidate, Calgary lawyer and former PC Party Treasurer Jim Prentice, was viewed as a logical choice for Orchard’s western supporters once Orchard was eliminated. However, as the results of the third ballot were called, MacKay’s campaign manager, Tory Senator Noel Kinsella, hastily arranged a backroom meeting between MacKay, Orchard and their campaign advisors. During the meeting, MacKay reached a deal with his rival and Orchard emerged from the room urging his delegates to support MacKay. Press officials immediately demanded to know what had inspired Orchard’s surprise move. Orchard repeatedly referred to a “gentleman’s agreement” made between himself and MacKay that had led to his qualified support.

MacKay won the final ballot with nearly 65% of the delegates supporting him. For the next few weeks, the specific details of the “Orchard deal” remained vague; a secret between MacKay, Orchard and their advisors.[1] However, it was eventually revealed that the infamous “Orchard deal” promised a review of the PC Party’s policies on the North American Free Trade Agreement, no merger or joint candidates with the Canadian Alliance, and a promise to redouble efforts to rebuild the national status of the Progressive Conservative Party. The agreement also included re-examining the PC Party’s policies on government subsidies for national railways and preserving the environment. The deal also requested that MacKay “clean-up” the party’s head office and specifically requested that the party’s National Director be fired. Further evidence later revealed Scott Brison’s cellphone number written in the margins of the note for some unexplained reason. In an attempt to heal internal rifts after the convention, Mackay edited out the number. After Brison defected to the Liberal party however, Mackay revealed the original copy. The agreement prompted much outrage and controversy amongst United Alternative supporters and was ribaldly referred to by CA MP Jason Kenney as “a deal with the Devil.”

At first MacKay seemed to be willing to adhere to the deal. In June, several Clark appointed personnel were let go from the party’s main office and MacKay appointed new experienced staff whose loyalties were more closely linked to himself and former Prime Minister and PC Party leader Brian Mulroney. MacKay also appointed a couple of low level staff workers who had been supportive of David Orchard’s leadership bid. In July, MacKay struck up a “Blue Ribbon PC Policy Review Panel” made up of Tory MPs, Senators and Orchard himself, that was to be chaired by Tory MP Bill Casey, in order to reexamine the party’s policies on NAFTA. The Committee was scheduled to hold talks across the country and make a report to the leader by January 2004.

By mid-July, political opponents and fellow Tories began attacking MacKay over the “Orchard deal.” MacKay’s conservative rival Stephen Harper suggested that the PC Party had hit rock-bottom when its policies and directions would be beholden to a “prairie socialist.” The secretive nature of the deal also led to concerns from within the party’s headquarters and constituency associations. David Orchard was seen by many within the party as an “outsider” who was attempting to turn the Progressive Conservative Party into the “Prairie Co-operative Party.” Some felt that MacKay’s credibility and leadership were undermined by the unscrupulousness of the deal and that electoral expectations were low for the upcoming election that was expected to occur in less than a year’s time. As media personality Rex Murphy noted in a Globe and Mail column, MacKay’s leadership arrived “stillborn” and that perhaps for the first time in recent memory, a party immediately emerged from a leadership convention grievously weakened and even less united than when it entered the convention.

Conservative party merger

The decline in MacKay’s popularity upon assuming leadership of the PC Party could be reflected in the fact that an August 17th Ipsos-Reid public opinion poll suggested that by August 2003 the party’s national support had dropped to 12% from 19% in May 2003 (the same disappointing level of support the party received in the 2000 election). This could be compared to the increases in support enjoyed by both the Liberal Party of Canada (44%) and the Canadian Alliance (15%). In the same poll, only 5% of Canadians viewed MacKay as a possible future Prime Minister, below Stephen Harper (6%), Jack Layton (17%) and Paul Martin (54%).

Under intense pressure from advisors and public musings that the divided PCs would be marginalized in a future election between a relatively stable western-based CA under Stephen Harper and the massively popular Paul Martin Liberals (although Jean Chrétien remained the Liberal leader until November 2003, he had announced he would not run again), MacKay encouraged talks between high-profile members of the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives. It should be noted that the PC Party, whose leadership MacKay assumed, was experiencing serious difficulties in raising campaign funds, keeping members and was still faced with paying down the remainder ($6 million) of the party’s staggering $10 million dollar debt borrowed for the previous election. According to a strict interpretation of the “Orchard deal”, talks regarding merger were permitted, only a full-fledged merger or the running of joint candidates was forbidden. By September 2003, Orchard became openly critical of MacKay’s facilitation of merger talks and criticized MacKay for not getting the PC Party into an election footing for a vote that was widely expected to occur in Spring 2004, another stipulation of the agreement.

On October 15, 2003, the merger talks culminated in MacKay and Alliance leader Stephen Harper signing an Agreement in Principle on the establishment of the Conservative Party of Canada, whereby the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance would merge to form a new Conservative Party of Canada. While MacKay was roundly criticized in some Red Tory circles for permitting a union under his watch, MacKay’s efforts to sell the merger to the PC membership were successful: 90.4% of the party’s elected delegates supported the deal in a vote on December 6, 2003.

Some PC caucus members refused to accept the merger: long-time Tory MP and former Prime Minister Joe Clark continued to sit as a “Progressive Conservative” for the remainder of the Parliament, as did MPs John Herron and André Bachand, while Scott Brison left the new party to join the Liberal Party in December 2003. In January, 2004 several Tory Senators left the party to sit as independents or “Progressive Conservatives.”

MacKay announced on January 13, 2004, that he would not run for the leadership of the new Conservative Party. On March 22, he was named deputy leader of the new party by newly-elected leader Stephen Harper. He was easily re-elected in the June 28, 2004 federal election in the newly redistributed riding of Central Nova.

On September 29, 2005, the Premier of Nova Scotia, John Hamm, announced his intention to resign. There was speculation that MacKay would return to the province to pursue provincial politics and enter the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party leadership race to become the Premier. MacKay would have been considered a front-runner in the race, however, he decided to remain with the Federal Conservatives.

The Liberal government lost a motion of non-confidence on November 28, 2005. In the resulting January 2006 election, the Conservative Party was elected with a minority government. MacKay was one of very few Conservatives in the entire country to lose support. He did manage to retain his seat by a comfortable margin against NDP candidate Alexis MacDonald.

Personal life

MacKay’s longtime fiancée was Lisa Michelle Merrithew, daughter of former Mulroney cabinet minister Gerald Stairs Merrithew. They reportedly ended their engagement in 2004. MacKay was then romantically linked to fellow MP Belinda Stronach in published reports. In an interview in the Toronto Star on January 8, 2005, Stronach confirmed that she and MacKay were dating. Stronach, elected as a Conservative in the 2004 election, crossed the floor to the Liberal Party on May 17, 2005. She declined to comment on what impact this would have on their relationship.

On May 18, 2005, MacKay told the CBC that his relationship with Stronach was indeed over, and that it had come as a surprise to him that she had crossed the floor. According to Don Martin, a National Post columnist who wrote a biography titled : “Belinda: the Political and Private Life of Belinda Stronach” in September 2006, MacKay reacted “with volcanic fury” when he learned about her defection.[2]

On October 19, 2006, there was a debate on the Conservative Party’s clean air plan was taking place when MP Mark Holland said that a Liberal colleague, David McGuinty asked MacKay about the impact of pollution on humans and animals by asking, “What about your dog?”. This was intended as a jab at MacKay in reference to the time he was photographed on his father’s farm with the animal after his relationship with Belinda Stronach had ended. Holland claims this is when MacKay allegedly made reference to Belinda Stronach’s empty chair (she was absent that day) and said “You already have her.” Holland lodged a complaint with the Commons Speaker and has demanded an apology be made by him. Stronach has said that the comment was disrespectful to both herself and Canadian women, as has herself asked for an apology. MacKay has denied referring to Stronach as a “dog”.[3] The alleged comment was not heard by Speaker of the House Peter Milliken and it was not recorded in the official Hansard. Afterwards, Milliken and his staff said that he could not hear the remarks on the tape recording.[4]

As reported by the Toronto Star on November 29, 2005, “MacKay has recently been linked to the daughter of another dynasty — Sophie Desmarais, whose father is Paul Desmarais from Power Corp.”

By September, 2006, MacKay’s romantic life was once again in the papers, with the New York Times reporting on gossip about his involvement with United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice[5][6]

MacKay had his driver’s licence suspended for two weeks starting May 21, 2005 after being caught speeding twice on November 11 and December 23 of 2004.

In his spare time, MacKay has served on volunteer boards including New Leaf and Tearmann House. He has also been active in Big Brothers-Big Sisters, the Pictou County Senior Rugby Club and the YMCA.

A sports enthusiast, MacKay is active in local adult rugby, baseball, football and hockey teams in Pictou, Nova Scotia.


Peter MacKay arrives at Rideau Hall to be sworn in as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Peter MacKay arrives at Rideau Hall to be sworn in as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

MacKay with Condoleezza Rice and Patricia Espinosa

MacKay with Condoleezza Rice and Patricia Espinosa

Following the Conservative victory in the 2006 election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper named MacKay as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency; he was also tasked to be the political minister for both his home province, and for neighbouring Prince Edward Island, just as his father Elmer had done between 1988 and 1993.

During the first mandate, his biggest issue was the Lebanon-Israel-Hezbollah crisis that occurred in July 2006. The government decided to evacuate thousands of Canadians from Lebanon to safer locations and many back to Canada. MacKay responded to critics saying that the process was slow, that the boats (those which were used to evacuate) had limited capacity. MacKay’s statements in support of the Israeli during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict created a national debate in Canada, especially among Arabs and Muslim Canadians who opposed MacKay’s position. During this period MacKay and the Conservative Party of Canada joined the Bush Administration in opposing the United Nation’s call for a ceasefire. MacKay also referred to the popular Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah as a “cancer” in Lebanon during this period.

On August 14, 2007, Stephen Harper shuffled MacKay from Foreign Affairs to Defence, replacing Gordon O’Connor.

On November 6, while attending a meeting at Forward Operating Base Wilson, 20 kilometres west of Kandahar City, Mackay was unharmed as two rockets struck the base at about 11 AM local time. Mackay described the incident: “There was an explosion. It was a loud bang,” said MacKay. “When it happened, we heard the explosion, we heard the whistle overhead, we were told to get down and we did.”.[3] The incident happened on the same day were suicide bomber detonated an explosive in Baghlan in the northeastern part of the country killing at least 35 including several politicians. While the Taliban was suspected behind the bombing, it was not related to the attack in Kandahar [4].


  • “We’re going to go after the Hells Angels, not Ducks Unlimited.” (On the Conservative Party crime platform during the 2006 election campaign).
  • “I’ve been called treacherous, venal, stupid, lazy. . . and that’s just from the Tories!”[7]
  • (when asked the solution to critical comments from Alberta Premier Ralph Klein) “Duct tape.”
  • “The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency is proud of this event here in Toronto–I mean Halifax . . .” during an introduction at the East Coast Music Awards in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
  • “This isn’t the 15th century. You can’t go around the world and just plant flags and say ‘We’re claiming this territory'” in response to Russia’s flag planting on the North Pole.
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