Scheer's Conservatives missed scoring 'on an open net,' Peter MacKay says as leadership talk heats up

As Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer prepares to meet with his caucus for the first time since last week's election defeat, questions are being raised about whether he should stay on to lead the party into the next election.

MacKay says campaign debate over social issues was a 'stinking albatross' hanging around Scheer's neck

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, right, missed a "breakaway on an open net" in failing to defeat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, former Conservative minister Peter MacKay said at an event in Washington, D.C. today. (Canadian Press photos)

Former Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay on Wednesday ripped into his party's recent election performance under leader Andrew Scheer, comparing it to a hockey player failing to score "on an open net."

During an event at The Canada Institute in Washington, the former long-time MP was asked for his thoughts on how the Conservatives failed to defeat Justin Trudeau's Liberals after the prime minister's public missteps, and despite deep divisions in parts of the country over the Liberal carbon tax and pipeline politics.

"Yeah, to use a good Canadian analogy, it was like having a breakaway on an open net and missing the net," MacKay quipped.

MacKay pointed to Liberal efforts during the campaign to cast Scheer's beliefs on abortion and same-sex marriage in a negative light. He said Canadians didn't want the campaign debate to focus on women's reproductive rights and old political battles about LGBTQ rights, yet those issues featured prominently throughout the campaign.

"That was thrust on the agenda and [it] hung around Andrew Scheer's neck like a stinking albatross, quite frankly. And he wasn't able to deftly deal with those issues when the opportunities arose," he said.

Multiple sources tell CBC News that, behind the scenes, people around MacKay have formed a team that is building infrastructure — including organization and fundraising — for a possible leadership bid if Scheer quits or is pushed out.

Early Thursday, though, MacKay tweeted he has repeatedly said he supports Scheer and that he worked very 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," he said on Twitter.

Scheer meets with caucus Wednesday

Scheer is working to keep a grip on his leadership and has been meeting with senior members of his caucus to discuss the path forward heading into Parliament. Next Wednesday, he will meet with the full group of newly elected and re-elected MPs.

Most MPs are taking a united front publicly.

Re-elected Alberta MP John Barlow said he doesn't agree with MacKay's remarks and believes the Conservatives made great strides in the election

"Peter MacKay is able to have his own opinion, but he wasn't a candidate. He wasn't campaigning. I think we did everything we possibly could," he said.

"Absolutely, we have to learn from the results from this election, we have to own the results and there will be a strong post-mortem over what occurred, but let's not lose focus on the results. We have a million more votes than we had before. We won the popular vote. We reduced a very strong majority to a minority government."

Offside with Canadians?

Many party supporters (who want to remain anonymous) say that if Scheer is the leader in the next election, he'll hand Justin Trudeau a majority.

Some of them feel Scheer is offside with most Canadians with his views on same-sex marriage and abortion, and that his campaign offering on climate change was not robust enough.

Sources say that MacKay will only consider running if Scheer is no longer in the picture. He, like many other potential candidates, is not interested in an unseemly fight that would see Scheer shoved out of the job.

MacKay ran to lead the Progressive Conservatives in 2003 and won.

In December of that same year, he merged the PC party with Stephen Harper's Canadian Alliance. The new party was named the Conservative Party of Canada, and Harper eventually became its leader.

Already, a petition and a Twitter account calling on Scheer to quit are making the rounds. A former staffer in Harper's office, Sara MacIntyre, blasted Scheer over the weekend on social media.

"I am pissed off that the leader of my party will not walk in a pride parade. I am sick of this, disgusted and ashamed. I believe and support in LBGTQ rights, gay marriage and being equal. I no longer support the CPC while a leader like that is at the helm," she tweeted.

The Conservatives will hold a convention and leadership review in April. However, the Reform Act, introduced by Conservative MP Michael Chong and passed into law in 2015, empowers MPs to trigger a leadership review and vote to oust their leader.

With files from the CBC's Olivia Stefanovich


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