By A. Frank Grunt
What a difference three years makes.
On February 4, 2017, the Conservative Party of Canada’s Brother Love Salvation Show came to town, taking over the Halifax Westin with much flourish, not a small measure of curiosity, and with the hope of getting it right.
Andrew Scheer, it turned out, was not the salvation of the party.
How could he be when 49 per cent of party members refused to endorse him in the final round of voting?
So, three years later, with Glam-Boy Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau having kicked two successive Conservative leaders to the curb, one a ten-year prime minister, party members are back at square one.
On February 8, 2020, the Big Top was again set up when the circus returned to the Halifax Westin by way of invitation from the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative, Tim Houston, prop., as part of that party’s annual general meeting.
But rather than the 14 circus acts that appeared three years ago, only five showed up this time — a mere handful of wannabes, nobodies, and alleged front-runners. In no particular order: Marilyn Gladu, Rudy Husny, Rick Peterson, Erin O’Toole and Peter MacKay.
Of this ambitious quintet only the two alleged front-runners, home-grown product Peter MacKay and Ontario MP Erin O’Toole have, so far, ponied up the $300,000 and the 3,000 signatures required to sit at the table.
This higher threshold, as opposed to $100,000 and 300 signatures last time out, is a move to keep incidental bearded ladies and neophyte lion tamers out of the big show.
But that, by itself, cannot account for either the lack of geographical representation in this race, or the near-lack of top-drawer names.
Peter MacKay is a top-drawer name, but even after two decades in Ottawa, has yet to prove himself a top-drawer talent.
In December, 2003, a mere six months after becoming leader of the federal Progressive Conservative Party, a 38-year-old Peter MacKay delivered the PC Party, lock, stock & barrel, to Stephen Harper, Stockwell Day, Deborah Grey, Myron Thompson & the “Reformers.”
Bye, bye, PC Party.
In two-and-a-half years as justice minister, our Pete stocked Nova Scotia’s courts with Tory hacks & Tory friends, at least one of them utterly incompetent and with an eye for the ladies.
In 2013, MacKay appointed Josh Arnold, best man at MacKay’s 2012 wedding, to the N.S. Supreme Court.
In 2104, MacKay appointed Cindy Cormier, Josh Arnold’s wife, to the Supreme Court Family Division.
As defence minister he was balls deep in the F-35 fighter jet fiasco and was accused of the misuse of government assets, military helicopters, Challenger jets and the like.
There you go.
If Peter MacKay is the frontrunner in the 2020 Conservative Party Leadership Sweepstakes, it’s only because others like former interim leader Rona Ambrose and former Stephen Harper attack dog/current Alberta premier Jason Kenny don’t want the job.
It isn’t kosher to shit on the hometown boy. We know that.
But based on his sleepy, safe but lackluster performance at the Halifax Westin, Peter MacKay’s candidacy leaves something to be desired.
One would have expected MacKay to have the hometown faithful on the edge of their seats.
It didn’t happen.
As all five candidates did, MacKay spoke to the crowd for about 15 minutes, lifting his scripted words off the page and hurriedly but gently sending them on their way.
It was a speech, generally backward-looking, replete with platitudes, clichés and fatigued fill-in-the-blank political jokes.
But, hey, a brief history lesson is a brief history lesson.
Speaking of lessons, it’s sufficiently apparent that MacKay, 54, has miles to go before he becomes fluent in French. Which begs the question, “What the fooook has he been doing the last 23 years?”
If Peter MacKay envisioned his potential ascension to the PMO as anything BUT an entitlement, the former Central Nova political playboy, Parliament Hill jock, would have buckled down and mastered fluent French a very long-time ago.
It is this very lack of French which keeps westerners like Rona Ambrose out of the race.
Peter’s support of an Energy East pipeline predictably drew applause, as did MacKay’s contention that a minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) “must be from Atlantic Canada and not Upper Canada.”
What rendered one speechless, however, was when Peter MacKay, almost 20 years in Ottawa, 10 of those years in government, not even five-years removed from government, began to rail on about all the bureaucracy & red tape in Ottawa. Like, buddy, are you just now coming to this realization?
He also revived, without any serious thought, the old chestnut that gets tossed around have-not-provinces like Nova Scotia far too often — decentralization. With all necessary respect. that’s pretty thin gruel, Mr. MacKay.
On the plus side, or perhaps the political celebrity side, MacKay was basically fawned over by an adoring crowd.
Tiny Global-TV put self-described “international impact” VJ Elizabeth McSheffrey on the case.
In a short Q & A session, in the grand Fundy Room of the Halifax Westin, McSheffrey appeared absolutely mesmerized by MacKay to the point where you might’ve been forgiven for hearing Frankie Valli singing in the background:
“My eyes adored you
Like a million miles away
From me you couldn’t see
How I adored you
So close, so close
And yet so far away…”
But Lovely Elizabeth wasn’t the only one fawning over Canada’s long-running Sexiest Male MP.
The Pride of Louisburg, Cape Breton, seaside resort expert Sen. Michael MacDonald, was quick to buttonhole Peter MacKay as, shortly after noon, the very informal candidate conclave broke up in the Westin’s steamy, poorly lit Atlantic Ballroom.
Then again, the routinely tartan-vested Sen. MacDonald is one of those touchy-feely types who still furrows his brow and tilts his head in concern when asking about your dear mother. Despite the fact that dear mother died 13 years ago. So, no real surprise there.
Neither was the praise Peter MacKay heaped on N.S. Tory Leader Tim Houston surprising. Peter looks forward to the day when he, as Conservative Prime Minister of Canada and Houston, as Progressive Conservative Premier of Nova Scotia bring skyrocketing prosperity and abundance to this bankrupt backwater.
Speaking of Timothy Jerome Houston, an excitable Frankland hack on the scene reported that there appeared to be a thaw in relations between the opposition leader, long suspicious of the media, and the bi-weekly, family magazine:
“Shit, man, I was just tryin’ to run to the front of the Atlantic Ballroom to get in Peter’s grill to snap his pic when Houston came by, coming the other way, and by golly, I’m absolutely positive I heard Tim mutter, “Hello! How are you today?”
Alas! The same hack reported just minutes later, outside the Commonwealth Room, that the very same Tim Houston astutely pulled Peter aside advising him on the name of the media hack’s employer, Frank Magazine.
Obviously, then, reports of a wholesale thaw in relations between Tim Houston & Frank Magazine were somewhat premature.
Nonetheless, as Frankland Managing Editor Andrew Douglas put it at the emergency weekend editorial meeting of the Frankland Hereditary Chiefs:
“We fully recognize that relations between Mr. Houston & his PC Party, declining in the polls such as they are, and the Frankland Omni-Living Corp., with its growing readership, are not precisely where we would like those relations to be, but we remain committed to finding solutions which will inevitably bring us to more common ground.”
Speaking of ground, holy moly, does leadership contender Marilyn Gladu ever take up a lot of real estate. The 58-year-old second-term Sarnia MP and Conservative health critic is an imposing figure.
As of this writing too much is being made of Marilyn Gladu being a woman. But that is the IPA (Identity Politics Age) in which we find ourselves.
Fact is, Gladu, a chemical engineer by vocation, is a cheerful, entertaining speaker who stresses “fiscal responsibility and social compassion.”
The usual political babble, “grow the base”, “big tent party”, aside, Marilyn Gladu, bright and articulate, is far less interested in political rhetoric than she’s keen on actual policy.
She doesn’t have a snowball’s chance.
Erin O’Toole, 47, is an interesting case.
When Harper flamed out an interim leader was chosen. The one caveat was that the interim leader could NOT run for the leadership.
In a crowded field which included MPs Rona Ambrose, Rob Nicholson, Diane Finley, Candice Bergen, and Michelle Rempel, Erin O’Toole put his name forward to become interim Conservative leader. Having been rejected by fellow caucus members, the Ontario MP (Durham) then turned around and ran in the 2017 Conservative Party Sweepstakes.
In that race the Dal Law grad and military fly boy finished third behind Scheer and Maxime Bernier. He did well in Nova Scotia taking 17 per cent of first ballot support, having endorsements from then provincial PC leader Jamie Baillie, former premier John Hamm, and long-time political layabout Gerald Keddy, among others.
At this political forum — it was not a debate — Erin O’Toole, by a wide margin, was the most forceful speaker. As close as this day would come to fire & brimstone.
The Conservative hardliner, a self-described “adopted son of Nova Scotia,” didn’t blow-up the applause meter, but it was damn close between O’Toole and MacKay. Obviously too close for Peter MacKay’s liking.
As for the other two game show contestants: Rick Peterson & Rudy Husny?
Like O’Toole it’s Rick Peterson’s second kick at the national leadership. The 64-year-old British Columbia venture capitalist also ran for the leadership of the BC Conservative Party. Who knew there was such a thing?
Nova Scotia Tories crammed into the Atlantic Ballroom went stone cold silent when the Rickster came out with his great notion of “zero corporate taxes.” That concept went over like a fart in church.
And sacrificial lamb Rudy Husny?
He’s a funny guy.
Rudy has the distinction of running against former Dipper leader Tom Mulcair in Outremont, in 2015 & 2011, and finishing quite poorly both times.
In any event, it was time to eat so the travelling circus shuffled slowly from the murky Atlantic Ballroom to the murky Commonwealth Room, where they would bathe in the political prudence of the new Tory premier of P.E.I., Dennis King.
The hometown favourite Peter MacKay with his handler Bill Stairs, a former Harper flunky, and descendent of Halifax’s 19th c. mercantile/banking Stairs Family, did a few laps around the ballroom and then vanished.
Last reports had our Frankland hack helping Pete through the doors of the Westin with his various bags and wishing him well.