Peter MacKay: Nearly 20 years in the political spotlight

Peter MacKay has been celebrated for his military advocacy, put under fire over the F-35 fiasco, recognized for his role in uniting the Conservative party and objectified, as he was routinely named Canada's sexiest MP.

Peter MacKay has held big portfolios and much attention since he was first elected in 1997

Peter MacKay has been celebrated for his advocacy for the Canadian Forces, put under fire over the F-35 fiasco, recognized for his role in uniting the right and objectified as Canada's sexiest MP.

As the 49-year-old minister of justice announces he is stepping down after nearly 20 years in the House of Commons, we recap some of what made headlines during his political career.

Unite the right

Peter MacKay served as the last leader of the now-defunct federal Progressive Conservative Party. PC leadership rival David Orchard threw his support behind MacKay in the spring of 2003 after MacKay signed a deal promising not to merge with the Canadian Alliance. Just a few months later, MacKay did just that, merging his party with the one led by Stephen Harper. Harper won the ensuing leadership bid for the new Conservative Party, which he leads as Prime Minister to this day. MacKay becomes the last of the Progressive Conservative MPs serving at the time of the merger to leave the Conservative party.

Bill Casey, a former PC MP who served during the merger, noted the change in a statement Friday. "The only members remaining from the merger in the Harper Government are all former Reform Party MPs. There are no Progressive Conservatives," he said. Casey, who was booted from Harper's cabinet caucus in 2007 for voting against his government's budget, is now the Liberal candidate for Cumberland-Colchester in the next election.

Military advocate

Prime Minister Stephen Harper talks with then Defence Minister Peter MacKay after arriving at a forward operating base at the district Sperwan Ghar in Kandahar province in May 2011. (Yiorgos Karahalis/Reuters)

MacKay was popular with the rank and file of the military during his time as minister of national defence. He was the second-longest serving defence minister, serving from May 2007 to July 2013. In 2007, MacKay was caught in a rocket attack during a visit to a forward operating base near Kandahar. During his time in the portfolio, he was also criticized for the rising price tag for a fleet of 65 F-35 fighter jets. MacKay was also forced to defend his use of a federal military search and rescue helicopter after being accused of having it as "his personal chauffeur service."

Judicial appointments

MacKay came under heat earlier this year for having ties to six of the nine judges appointed to the Nova Scotia courts since 2013. That's when MacKay became attorney general and justice minister. The ties range from personal friendships to political colleagues. The contested appointments include Josh Arnold, who was MacKay's best man at his 2012 wedding, Cindy Cormier, Arnold's wife and MacKay's friend, and Ted Scanlan, past president of the Central Nova riding association (the riding which MacKay represents) and the former campaign manager for his father. A spokesperson for MacKay brushed off the criticisms, telling CBC News that lawyers applying to become judges are assessed and recommended by a committee, not by MacKay as the justice minister. "The minister of justice only appoints those recommended by such committees." His highest profile appointment went historically badly, when the Supreme Court rejected his choice of Justice Marc Nadon to join the nation's top court.

Political gaffes

Of course, there's been a few blunders during MacKay's time as MP. One of the most memorable mix-ups happened at an on-stage Q&A with former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in January 2011. That's where MacKay, then defence minister, mistakenly told Schwarzenegger that California and British Columbia shared a border. The governor corrected MacKay, reminding him the states of Oregon and Washington lie in between. Another less humourous blunder were the emails MacKay sent to his female and male staff on Mother's Day and Father's Day respectively. In the Mother's Day email, MacKay thanked his female staff for changing diapers and packing lunches, while in the Father's Day email, he lauded his male staff for moulding and shaping the "next generation of leaders." Many dismissed MacKay's messages as archaic and patronizing. MacKay will also be remembered for his alleged re-working of the War of 1812. During his 2012 Bastille Day speech at the French Embassy in Ottawa, MacKay reportedly told the crowd the French fought the Americans beside Brits. In reality, the French supported the U.S. MacKay's office denied the botch.

New prostitution laws

As justice minister, MacKay tabled a controversial prostitution bill that came into force last year, the same day marked as the national day of remembrance and action on violence against women. The Supreme Court of Canada gave the federal government one year to come up with the legislation after unanimously striking down anti-prostitution laws that prohibited brothels, living on the avails of prostitution and communicating in public with clients. The new prostitution laws criminalize the purchase of sex and advertising its sale while providing some legal immunity for sex workers. MacKay has argued the new laws protect sex workers by allowing them to hire bodyguards and work from a regular indoor location. Still, dozens of Canadian organizations and agencies have called for it to be repealed.

Sexiest MP

Defence Minister Peter MacKay marries his wife Nanazin Afshin-Jam in Mexico in 2012. The photo was first posted to MacKay's official Facebook page. (Facebook/Canadian Press)

Routinely named Canada's sexiest male MP by The Hill Times, MacKay's love life has long been the subject of scrutiny, gossip and rumours. His relationship with fellow Conservative MP Belinda Stronach came to a very public end in 2005 when she crossed the floor to join Paul Martin's Liberals and MacKay retreated home to a farm in Nova Scotia for that infamous, mournful photo-op with the family dog. Their names made headlines again over allegations MacKay seem to call Stronach a "dog" — a derogatory comment he denied. In January 2012, he married Nazanin Afshin-Jam, a former beauty queen and Iranian-Canadian human rights activist. He was previously engaged to Jana Juginovic, a CTV executive and dated Lisa Michelle Merrithew, daughter of a former Mulroney-era cabinet minister. MacKay also hosted former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, where they shared Tim Hortons and toured the province. In her memoirs, she devotes almost a full page to MacKay, crediting him with convincing her not to quit her job.