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Peter MacKay

A sombre sounding Peter MacKay said he never saw the defection of Belinda Stronach coming, adding that it has left his heart "a little banged up."

"I think I was like everybody, I was shocked. I didn't see it coming. I had no idea. I knew she was unhappy," MacKay said from his father's farm in Lorne, N.S.

The pair had set Parliament Hill abuzz in January when it was revealed that MacKay and Stronach were dating.

When asked if he had broken off his relationship with Stronach, he said: "I haven't talked to her. That part of this is deeply hurtful and deeply personal. We'll see what happens."

MacKay said he came home to "heal and think a little bit" following Stronach's shocking announcement that she was leaving the Conservatives and becoming a cabinet minister with the Liberal party.

"My head's clear. My heart's a little banged up but that will heal," said the deputy leader.

MacKay said he knew Stronach had been unhappy for a few weeks, but that he didn't think she would "pursue this course of action."

"I don't want this to be personal. The personal side of this is separate."

He said he first learned of Stronach's intentions to leave the party "after midnight on Monday," following Stronach's meeting with Prime Minister Paul Martin.

He said they "exchanged views" but refused to elaborate. MacKay was the one who called Conservative Leader Stephen Harper to tell him of Stronach's decision.

"I'm not going to be critical of her. I wish her the best, I really do. I have a lot of affection for her family, her kids in particular. She did what she felt she had to do. I wish her happiness."

MacKay dismissed one of Stronach's stated reasons for defecting to the Liberals – that the Tories were threatening national unity by aligning themselves with the Bloc Québécois to bring down the government.

"I don't want to speak directly to her but to the concern. It's not true. We're not aligning ourselves with the Bloc. That's nonsense," he said.

Instead, MacKay blamed the Liberal party and the sponsorship scandal for fanning the flames of separatism.

Stronach, who had always been considered a moderate MP, said Harper was not sensitive to certain regions of the country and that she wasn't comfortable with the direction of the party.

But MacKay defended the party, saying "the moderate views are alive and well."

"Any suggestion that this party is not inclusive and open...is completely false."