Peter MacKay is not a household name in this country. He is part of a coterie of bland politicians who have been a part of the federal Conservative government for nearly a decade but their particulars often escapes those except for the most diehard. As I thought about the announced departure of Mr. MacKay (CPC - Central Nova, NS) I realized what a pleasant surprise this is.
I don't suppose Mr. MacKay is a bad man (hardly a ringing endorsement) but his checkered past is indicative of a kind of politics which, if nothing else, is deeply discouraging. Many writers have offered their summation of MacKay's career. None of the ones I have read are particularly flattering and most are highly critical.
Mr. MacKay has never been man of significant talent. He was elected as an MP after his father retired from the riding of Central Nova. Indeed sometimes the scions of politicians surpass their elders and achieve greatness. At best MacKay can be said to have achieved mediocrity despite holding a number of significant roles. In the early 2000s he became leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. He won the leadership by committing to a leadership rival that he would not merge the party with the Canadian Alliance. In short order he broke that promise.
Until the recent defection of Danielle Smith to Jim Prentice's Progressive Conservatives in Alberta there may not be any such clear political betrayal in Canadian politics of a leader to their members. Over the years the anger and dissolution of the PC faithful has died out, but many of them defected to the Liberal Party in due course or have had an unhappy time in the Conservative Party more generally. Given how much stronger the Alliance was than the PCs the merger has been interpreted by some as more of a hostile takeover. MacKay did not challenge Stephen Harper (CPC - Calgary Southwest, AB) to be leader, who easily won in 2004.
When Stephen Harper came to power in 2006 he owed a great deal to Peter MacKay, the man who dissolved a political institution for personal gain. Since 2006, despite having no governing experience or obvious talent for the positions, MacKay has always held prominent ministerial portfolios. Harper over the years has seemed to be clear that he didn't trust MacKay to handle anything complicated and moved him to quieter files until he bungled them.
I may sound harsh, but it should be remembered that this was the man responsible for the F-35 file (whose spending is radically out of control and the government has repeatedly obfuscated the true costs) and abused his power of Minister of Defence to use a helicopter for personal use. Here I would recommend Andrew Coyne's article on MacKay's various ministerial posts.
Then add in the fact that MacKay has been responsible for some very tasteless comments over the years. As a member of the cabinet he has been one of the many talking points-driven automatons, avoiding even simple accountability on questions like veterans services. He was the Justice Minister during the introduction of much of the horrible so-called tough on crime legislation. Add in his stumbling over comments about women, such as his explanations about why women don't become judges and that moms pack lunches while fathers shape minds and MacKay presents a kind of leader few should follow and even less should emulate.
My criticism of MacKay is simple. He sacrificed, or abandoned, the noble aspects of politics: loyalty, values, and principles for petty gains, prestige and to abuse power. When people criticize politicians and say they're all the same and beneath their contempt I imagine the careers of men like Mr. MacKay go a long way to shaping that perception.
But while MacKay has ended his career as an undistinguished minister who brought very little to national life, it is important to remember that there was a very real alternative set of events. Eric Grenier has written this very entertaining piece about a hypothetical election in 2003. If nothing else it shows the value of having competent, credible and thoughtful women and men, people of character in our politics. In the future we must try to do better.