Critics must accept change in Conservative Party, says former Mulroney minister

Federal Conservative MP Peter MacKay, right, is greeted by his father and former Tory Cabinet Secretary Elmer MacKay after arriving at his campaign headquarters in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, on October 14, 2008.Mike Dembeck/The Canadian Press

An experienced cabinet minister under Brian Mulroney says the evolution of the Conservative Party is an inevitability that some critically experienced party members should accept.

Elmer MacKay made the comment Monday, in response to concerns from former Conservative Senator Marjory LeBreton and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney about the party’s direction in the current leadership race.

“It is fashionable to say that a party has lost control. You could say that about all parties. I don’t think the Conservative Party has lost its way,” Mr MacKay, 85, said from his home in Nova Scotia.

Also Monday, Mr MacKay – Solicitor General, Secretary of State for National Revenue and Minister of Public Works under Mr Mulroney in the 1980s and 1990s – said he supported Pierre Poilievre for the Conservative leadership, in part because the Ottawa MP has traits that be related to mr. Mulroney, who led the progressive Conservative party.

Ms. LeBreton — who worked with progressive conservative leaders from the 1960s to the 1990s before being appointed to the Senate — said on Global News this weekend that she is concerned about the direction Mr Poilievre is taking the party as he aspires to her leadership.

Ms. LeBreton said conservative leadership candidates who jump on the “grievance brigade” are doing not only the party but also the country a “disservice”.

And she said the “great agreement” reached in 2003 between Stephen Harper as leader of the Canadian Alliance and former Progressive Conservative leader Peter MacKay – Elmer MacKay’s son – “is causing irreparable rifts.”

Meanwhile, Mr Mulroney recently said, according to the newspaper La Presse, that he no longer recognizes himself in the current Conservative party.

Mr MacKay said he certainly sees himself in the current Conservative party. “I think it’s a risk for people like Marjory LeBreton and a few others to say that maybe because they have certain opinions that the party left them rather than they left the party,” he said.

“I’ve seen supposedly very loyal conservatives, for personal reasons, leave the party and then say, ‘Oh. It’s not my fault. It’s the party’s fault,’” said Mr MacKay, a Member of Parliament from 1971 to 1993 , apart from a year where he was sidelined while Mr. Mulroney represented his Central Nova riding.

“You have to maintain the spirit of team support along with any sense of personal grievance you may have. It’s easy to pick up your marbles and walk home.”

He said there are qualities he likes in the conservative leadership candidates, but he thinks Mr Poilievre is an independent thinker, with a “candid and courageous approach” that does not shy away from his principles.

Mr. MacKay defended Mr. Poilievre’s call to fire the governor of the Bank of Canada, noting that many people are frustrated with the bank’s actions on inflation. “I don’t want to interpret what Pierre said, but what he was referring to is that the Bank of Canada needs another look, and they don’t necessarily have all the answers.”

As for the support of Mr. Poilievre for the convoy protests, said Mr. MacKay that Mr. Poilievre called for a fair trial for the protesters. “I’m sorry the government was so quick and other people were so quick to focus on the disaffected rather than on the hearts of the people who got this far, so long to try and get a hearing,” he said.

“I just like the guy and I see some of the qualities in him that I saw in Brian Mulroney when our party was in the doldrums and we went really slow and [not getting] everywhere under Joe Clark and it struck me that Mulroney was someone who had the potential to change things. I think the same about Pierre Poilièvre.”

In 1983, Mr. Mulroney succeeded Joe Clark as leader of the progressive Conservatives, leading the party to win 211 of the 282 seats in the 1984 election campaign.

Mr MacKay said Mr Poilievre’s “greatest risk” would be that his critics would label him an extremist. “I’m convinced he isn’t. If he was, I wouldn’t support him so enthusiastically,” he said.

Mr MacKay said his son, Peter, has his own views on the race for leadership. In a tweet in April, Peter MacKay, a minister under Mr Harper, posted a photo with former MP Leona Alleslev, then in the leadership race, writing that he was proud to support all candidates wherever and whenever he could. Peter did not respond to a request for comment.

The Conservatives will announce their new leader on September 10, based on a postal vote. Ontario MPs Scott Aitchison, Leslyn Lewis and Mr Poilievre are in power, as are former Quebec Prime Minister Jean Charest, Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown and Roman. Baber, a former member of the Ontario legislature.

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