As the Conservative Leadership race starts to get going, the big story so far has been about who has taken a pass rather than those getting in. And let’s face it, that’s a legitimate thing to focus on; with big names like Jean Charest, Rona Ambrose and Pierre Poilievre deciding to sit this out, it’s very notable to see the quality of people deciding to not get into this thing. At this point, it actually seems like a debate between those who are staying out would be much more interesting and substantive than a debate between the actual declared candidates. In my experience, having a dynamic like that is never a good thing for a leadership campaign.
But this weekend we finally saw one of the few big names who are actually going to take a run at this thing launch their campaign. Sure we’ve known for a while that he was getting in, after his short tweet telling us all so, but once you get a room filled and the cameras out on a Saturday, that surely makes it official, right? Well it’s official and the race to replace Andrew Scheer finally has it’s first big name in:
Those two images, that video and that newspaper cover page, tell you everything you need to know about how Peter MacKay’s official entry into this race went. Yep, there was a full room and yes there was a lot of the usual conservative pablum that you would have expected to hear. And yes, his French was simply not up to snuff, not even close. Regardless of what people think, that is a must, which is something I’ll have more to say about in depth in an upcoming piece.
But let’s be clear about where this all stands, regardless of the quality of MacKay’s French; he is still head and shoulders above the rest of this lightly attended field of candidates. He would be a strong candidate in any race, but when compared to those who have gotten in so far or at likely to get in, he’s a couple cuts above. Many have started to talk about this race as if this will now be a MacKay coronation, and that’s talk that’s warranted for sure. When you see the caucus support that’s rushing to his side, you can easily see a first ballot win in his future.
Unless something big changes and another name of note re-considers or jumps in, it’s easily starting to look like Peter MacKay will be the Conservative Party of Canada leader going into the summer and into the next election. And from listening to MacKay’s speech, you can see that he’s feeling the same way. His messaging was classic stuff for a frontrunning campaign, looking past their immediate opponents and focusing on the next one, Justin Trudeau. It’s not an unwise strategy because at this point unless anything changes the candidate most likely to beat Peter MacKay in the Conservative leadership race is Peter MacKay himself, and no amount of helicopter pick-ups will be able to help him out of that.
While MacKay has major flaws and issues, all candidates do. And while his attempted framing of Trudeau of “Yoga vs. Hockey” needs a bit of work to fit into 2020, he’s not totally off the mark. One of my moments on the Hill that has always stuck with me actually involved the yogi and the hockey player, and is why I believe this approach by MacKay, done right, could work. It was May 2010, on a beautiful spring day in Ottawa. My boss at the time, John Rafferty, was taking part in a Hill advocacy day by the Paraplegic Society of Canada. They offered MPs and Senators the chance to use a wheelchair for the day, to better understand the challenges that Canadians with disabilities face.
That morning John and I went up to Centre Block to get him set up with his chair for the day. When we arrived, there were dozens of chairs and given the varying ages and abilities of the people taking part, there were both manual and electric chairs available. While we were getting John into his chair and set up, I could help but notice out of the corner of my eye that Mr. Trudeau, one of the youngest and fittest MPs there, quickly grabbed himself an electric chair and off he went. As a part of this day, the Paraplegic Society set up a few events as a part of it. One of those took place at Noon at the foot of the Peace Tower. Gathered there were these MPs and Senators in their chairs, along with a group of Paralympians and members of the Canadian Wheelchair Rugby team, in their specialized chairs. A few extra wheelchair rugby chairs were made available for MPs to try, and being a rugby player, MacKay tried one for this event.
The event itself was a relay race around the Hill. The MPs, senators and athletes were broken up into teams, each with a ball, and they would race around the Hill. It was a fun time and one such a beautiful sunny day it made for a great time. As a part of my job, I went down to the bottom of the hill with a camera to take pictures of John coming by in his chair. While I was waiting down there, I saw everyone come by, racing and moving along at various speeds, but everyone having a good time. Then I saw something that just stuck with me and is still clear in my mind ten years late. It involved both Mr. Trudeau and Mr. MacKay, and the image was just burned into my mind. Later in the day I saw that the Globe and Mail caught a picture of it, confirming what I had saw and given the current context, it continues to speak volumes:
There you see the two men in states that speak so much to how we see them. We see MacKay in the rugby-style wheelchair, pumping his arms and working hard, racing forward putting in his full effort. He was putting in a workout and I remember remarking just how he was pouring himself into it. And then you contrast that against Trudeau, in his electric wheelchair behind him, feet crossed, up on the stirrups of the chair, relaxed and comfortable as he takes a motorized afternoon ride.
When I say that Mr. MacKay’s approach from Saturday, if done right, could work, that’s what jumps to mind. It’s such a striking contrast and is a great example of a picture speaking a thousand words, regardless of the language they are spoken in. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that Peter MacKay will be our next Prime Minister and I don’t think that he would be a good choice for that role, but this isn’t someone with nothing to draw upon. There is something there, some substance, and as we saw in the last election you’re not running against perfection, you’re only running against the other flawed people who are also on the ballot. You don’t need to look good in comparison to perfect, you just need to look good when compared to the competition. If MacKay can strike an image and a persona that came through in that picture from that day in 2010, then he could be a much bigger problem for the Liberals than Andrew Scheer ever was. Will that actually happen? Time will tell but as we look at things today, it looks like that will be the question because it’s clear that Mr. MacKay is the front runner in this race and he stands the best chance to represent the blue team in the next election, whenever that comes.