Politics

MacKay says he supports Scheer, hours after chiding Conservative campaign

Former Tory cabinet minister Peter MacKay said he stands by Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, just hours after making blistering comments about the party's showing in last week's election.

Former cabinet minister says federal party leader's Conservatives missed scoring 'on an open net'

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, right, shakes hands with Peter MacKay during a campaign stop in Little Harbour, N.S., on Oct. 17 just days before the federal election. MacKay was an MP from 1997 to 2015, and served various cabinet roles in the former Harper government. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Former Tory cabinet minister Peter MacKay said he stands by Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, just hours after making blistering comments about the party's showing in last week's election.

While on stage at the Canada Institute in Washington on Wednesday, MacKay 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 palpable divides across the country on issues like the carbon tax.

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

He also pointed to the Liberal team's efforts to make the campaign about social issues by raising Scheer's beliefs on abortion and same-sex marriage.

"[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," MacKay said.

In the wee hours of Thursday morning, MacKay clarified he was talking about the party's shortcomings.

"I've repeatedly said I support Andrew Scheer and I worked very hard to help in the campaign," he wrote.

"Reports of me organizing are false. Recent comments are about our party's shortcomings and making the necessary improvements with modern policies and better coms so we can win the next election."

However, multiple sources have told 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.

Sources say that MacKay will only consider running if Scheer is no longer in the picture. 

A Conservative official said the last time Scheer and MacKay spoke was at a campaign stop in Nova Scotia on Oct. 17.

Leadership questions

MacKay's hockey comments are already whipping up division within the party.

"Big words for someone who didn't even suit up and get on the ice," quipped Grande Prairie-Mackenzie MP Chris Warkentin on Twitter on Wednesday.

To which former Conservative MP Alex Nuttal responded, "Have some respect for the man who gave up his leadership to unite the right so people like you could get elected."

Speaking to CBC News on Thursday, Warkentin said Conservatives should aim their fire at the Liberals, not each other.

"I have great respect for Peter MacKay. That's why I'm so disappointed he chose to opine about the campaign in front of an American audience," Warkentin said. "The campaign review is going on and everyone would look forward to hearing from Peter in a constructive way.

"It's not helpful when trying to hold Justin Trudeau to account to start beating up on each other."

Tim Uppal, who lost in 2015 but won this time, said most people he's spoken with are supportive of Scheer and committed to holding the Liberals' feet to the fire.

"After any election we should be having this review, but at the end of the day, we need to stay united," he said. "Let's focus on Justin Trudeau. Let's focus on on this Liberal minority government and ensure we hold them to account."

Scheer will face the full batch of newly elected and re-elected MPs next week, and has already been meeting with senior members of his caucus to discuss the path forward heading into Parliament. 

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 back in 2015, gives MPs the power to trigger a leadership review, and to subsequently vote to oust their leader at caucus meeting.

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

In December 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 leader.

With files from the CBC's Kathleen Harris, Hannah Thibedeau and Olivia Stefanovich

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