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OTTAWA – Peter MacKay says his recent comments about Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s campaign “shortcomings” were meant to be constructive.

On Wednesday, MacKay compared Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s 2019 election loss to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “having a breakaway on an open net and missing the net,” and said that Scheer’s socially conservative stance on issues like abortion and same sex marriage hurt their chances to pick up key votes.

Hours after headlines about his comment while participating in a Wilson Centre panel in Washington, D.C., MacKay took to Twitter in an effort to explain himself.

MacKay, whose name has been brought up as a potential challenger for Scheer’s job, says he has “repeatedly” voiced his support for Scheer and worked to help him during the campaign. He said any rumours of him organizing a leadership challenge are “false.”

He said recent comments about the Conservative campaign’s “shortcomings” were meant to focus on “making the necessary improvements” with modern policies and “better” communications, “so we can win the next election.”

On Wednesday, MacKay was asked what went wrong with the Conservative campaign, and he went on to cite a “nervousness” for female voters that Scheer’s socially conservative personal views caused, as well as a missed opportunity to seize the agenda in an election campaign when Canadians didn’t seem enthusiastic about either Scheer or Trudeau.

MacKay, who was briefly the leader of the Progressive Conservative party before it merged with the Canadian Alliance to create the Conservative Party of Canada, did not run in the 2017 leadership race. He has recently been downplaying any suggestions that he’s looking to take the helm of the party since the prospect bubbled up during the election.

According to Scheer’s Director of Communications Brock Harrison, the two men have not spoken since they were both at a campaign stop in Nova Scotia during the election.

Former Conservative cabinet minister Joe Oliver defended MacKay Thursday, noting he worked hard for Scheer during the campaign.

“I think he’s remaining a loyalist to the party. He’s expressing frustration that some people feel, that we just couldn’t get it done in last election,” Oliver said during an appearance on CTV’s Power Play.

Oliver noted that MacKay hasn’t indicated that he is going to take a shot at the Conservative leadership, adding “we should take him at his word at this point.”

Meanwhile Brad Trost, former Conservative MP in Saskatchewan, said he has heard rumblings from other Conservatives who are eager for a shot at the position.

“I think the problem for Andrew going forward is not just that social conservatives are disappointed with him, it’s that all conservatives had higher expectations,” Trost said Thursday on CTV’s Power Play.

“And even if people aren’t thinking about a leadership challenge now, as they hear Peter McKay and others publically muse about it – whether they say they are or not – it’s going to encourage others to jump in.”

MacKay's open net analogy sparked some fierce exchanges between Conservatives, with Deputy Conservative House Leader Chris Warkentin tweeting: “Big words for someone who didn’t even suit up and get on the ice,” to which former Conservative MP Alex Nuttall responded: “Have some respect for the man who gave up his leadership to unite the right so people like you could get elected.”

The Conservative caucus of 121 MPs will meet next week, after Scheer spent a few days this week huddled with senior members of caucus to plot their Official Opposition strategy going into a relatively stable Liberal-led minority Parliament.

Because of the election loss, a leadership review will be triggered at the party’s convention in Toronto in April, but it’s possible, if there are enough unsatisfied MPs who got elected under Scheer’s banner, that they unite and oust their leader sooner.

Under the Reform Act — a contentious legislative initiative led by once-Conservative leadership hopeful Michael Chong and passed in 2015 — MPs in a caucus have the ability to trigger a leadership review and vote within their caucus.

Should the Conservative caucus agree to the parameters of the Act — something they did not do at the start of the last Parliament — it would take just 20 per cent of the caucus to sign on in agreement of a review. The actual secret ballot vote requires a majority to vote to replace the leader.

Chong sent an email reminding MPs of their ability to prompt a leadership review, in the context of informing them of their legal obligations under the Act.

Each caucus is required to hold four votes at their first caucus meeting to decide whether they will enable the caucus’ ability to remove an MP from caucus, remove a caucus chair, remove a party leader, or elect an interim leader.

“My intention in sending the email is to remind all members of parliament of their legal obligations under the Reform Act rules that were adopted in the 41st Parliament. I sent the same email after the last election in 2015, so I wouldn’t interpret my sending if the email as unusual,” Chong said in an email to CTV News.

With files from CTV News’ Kevin Gallgher

I’ve repeatedly said I support @AndrewScheer + I worked v hard to help him in the campaign. Reports of me organizing r false. Recent comments r about our Party’s shortcomings & making the necessary improvements w modern policies + better coms so we can win the next election.

— Peter MacKay (@PeterMacKay) October 31, 2019

Have some respect for the man who gave up his leadership to unite the right so people like you could get elected.

— Alex Nuttall MP (Retired) (@AlexNuttallMP) October 31, 2019