OTTAWA – Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s 2019 election loss “was like having a breakaway on an open net and missing the net,” according to his former colleague Peter MacKay.
The former Conservative cabinet minister is someone whose name has been brought up as a potential challenger for Scheer’s job depending on the outcome of the April leadership review.
While participating in a Wilson Centre panel in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, MacKay was asked what he thought about the election outcome that saw the Liberals hold on to power despite an arguably rocky four years for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.
“To use a good Canadian analogy it was like having a breakaway on an open net and missing the net,” he said.
He then went on to detail what he thought went wrong for the Conservatives in the campaign that ended with Scheer falling 49 seats short of a majority government he said he was eyeing.
“What went wrong? Well I’m going to be very honest with you: I think there were a number of issues that became very prevalent in this election that nobody other than the politicos wanted to talk about,” MacKay said.
He cited the conversations around abortion and same sex marriage as examples, saying those issues “hung around Andrew Scheer’s neck like stinking albatross quite frankly.”
“He wasn’t able to deftly deal with those issues when the opportunities arose and I think among female voters in particular, and those who would have been impacted by any re-visitation it created a nervousness or took them out of their comfort zone, if they voted Conservative,” MacKay said.
MacKay also said that the Conservatives may have missed the opportunity to seize the agenda in an election where Canadians didn’t seem enthusiastic about either Scheer or Trudeau.
“One of our former prime ministers famously said that elections are not a time to have these important discussions, well, they are. But it’s difficult now with the pace of information and certainly now with social media to get traction on some of these big issues. That’s part of the analyses of what went wrong in terms of Andrew Scheer’s campaign,” MacKay said.
Reacting to the clip on CTV’s Power Play, former Conservative insider Garry Keller said that “everybody needs to take a deep breath, Peter MacKay included, and let the leader focus on what he needs to do in the short-term and with caucus.”
Keller said that MacKay’s commentary was “extremely unhelpful” to Scheer but potentially also his own aspirations, should they exist.
“If it was such an easy breakaway, why didn’t he run for leader in the first place?” Keller said.
Former deputy Conservative leader Lisa Raitt, who lost her Milton, Ont. seat in the election, said she doesn’t view MacKay’s comments as an attack on Scheer.
“As far as I’m concerned, that’s the kind of feedback that the leader is going to be getting across the country and what is important is that he learns from it and we move forward as a party to make sure that mistakes aren’t made again,” she told CTV News Channel Wednesday.
Raitt said that MacKay “worked really hard on this campaign” and told her after the election that he supported Scheer – and she believes that to be true.
Raitt also said she will not be voting in favour of a leadership review when the Conservative Party meets for a convention in April in Toronto.
After the party’s disappointing election outcome, voices from inside the party have begun to question whether Scheer should stay on as leader going into the next election, which in the current minority situation could be earlier than four years from now.
MacKay, who did not run in the 2017 Tory leadership race to replace Stephen Harper, has remained a prominent Conservative commentator but has downplayed any suggestions that he’s looking to take the helm of the party.
On CTV’s election night special, CTV News’ Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme asked MacKay whether he had leadership aspirations should the outcome not turn in Scheer’s favour.
His response was: “I’m more of a hockey player and I’ve passed you know, the third period now and I’m watching from the stands.”
With files from CTV News’ Sarah Turnbull