Peter MacKay

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Peter G. MacKay

The Honourable Peter Gordon MacKay, PC, M.P., (born September 27, 1965) was the final leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada (PC Party). In December 2003, he agreed to merge the party .


Early life and career

MacKay was born in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, the son of PC cabinet minister and lumber businessman Elmer MacKay. After graduating with an Bachelor of Arts degree from Acadia University in 1987, MacKay went on to study Law at Dalhousie University. He was called to the Nova Scotia Bar in June 1991. MacKay worked as a lawyer for firms in Halifax and Dusseldorf, 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 suggested that the major impetus for his entry in federal politics were his frustrations with the shortcomings in the justice system, particularly his perception that the courts do not care enough 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. MacKay was one of a handful of newly elected "Young Turk" PC MPs (along with John Herron, André Bachand and Scott Brison), who were under 35 years of age when elected and considered the future leadership material that would 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 re-elected in the 2000 federal election. By 2001, MacKay 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 was voted the "sexiest male MP in the House of Commons" by the Hill Times (a Parliament Hill newspaper) for four 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, Nova Scotia in January, 2003. From the early 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 Blue Tory PC Party Treasurer Jim Prentice, social conservative and United Alternative candidate Craig Chandler and Red Tory PC 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 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 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.

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. 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 from the race. 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 reexamining 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. This 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," chaired by Tory MP Bill Casey, in order to reexamine the party's policies on NAFTA. By this time, many political opponents and fellow Tories began attacking MacKay for the unscrupulous nature of 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 Cooperative Party." Many felt that MacKay's credibility and leadership were heavily undermined by the deal and that there would be no way he could face the electorate in an election widely expected to occur one year later. As media personality Rex Murphy noted in a newspaper column, MacKay's leadership arrived "stillborn" and that perhaps for the first time in recent memory, a party immediately emerged from a leadership convention even less united than when it entered the convention.

Conservative party merger

The meltdown in MacKay's 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. 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, MacKay encouraged talks between high-profile members of the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives. According to the "Orchard deal," talks regarding merger were permitted, only a full-fledged merger or the running of joint candidates was forbidden. However, by September 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. In mid-October 2003, the merger talks culminated in MacKay and CA leader Stephen Harper agreeing to a "merger in principle" between the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance 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. 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 reorganized riding of Central Nova.

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 has since been 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.

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

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.


"I've been called venal, stupid, lazy... and that's just from Tories!" [2] (

"I think I'll go home and walk my dog... at least dogs are loyal." (On how he will cope with his recent break up with Belinda Stronach)

Preceded by:
Joe Clark
Progressive Conservative Leaders
Succeeded by:
'Party merged into
Conservative Party of Canada
Leader - John Lynch-Staunton'
Preceded by:
Roseanne Skoke, Liberal
Members of Parliament from Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough
Succeeded by:
Electoral district dissolved
Preceded by:
Electoral district created
Members of Parliament from Central Nova
Succeeded by:

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