The Daily News (Halifax), Thursday, August 16, 2007
The Peter Principle at work
MacKay's deals with the devil bode ill for his prospects as
Was Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to pluck
Peter MacKay from the rock of Foreign Affairs and plop
him into the hard place of Defence good for MacKay's
career? Is it good for Canada?
It's far easier to answer the latter question than
Taking the real measure of MacKay has never been
easy. Viewed through one end of the telescope, he is an
incredibly successful politician with an even brighter
future. He is - to steal some of the news- account
descriptions of him this week - "ambitious," "telegenic,"
"a sure-footed communicator." He's also a 10-year
parliamentary veteran, having won election four times.
He's been the leader of one national political party
and the architect of another. With this week's shuffle,
he will have held down two of the most senior portfolios
in government. And he's not even 42.
There's plenty of time yet for him to reach his
ultimate goal of becoming Prime Minister Peter MacKay.
And yet ...
And yet there's always been something of Fearless
Fosdick about MacKay, too. Like the accident prone,
loyal-to-a-fault police officer in the old Li'l Abner
cartoon - whose regularly, and often self-inflicted,
bullet-riddled body inadvertently reveals his
two-dimensional comic strip body - MacKay is less than
Most of MacKay's "less" has to do with the issue of
principles, and the question of whether he has any.
The defining moment in his political career — what
should have marked the end of the beginning of his
meteoric rise to power but became instead the beginning
of the end of his hopes — was what then-foe, now-friend
Jason Kenny called his deal with the devil at the 2003
Progressive Conservative party's leadership convention.
That was when MacKay, for reasons that can only be
described as crass, struck a secret backroom pact with
his more progressive leadership rival, David Orchard.
MacKay pledged to review the party's pro-North American
Free Trade Pact policy he had previously supported, and
promised, cross-his-heart, not to lead the party into a
merger with the right-wing Canadian Alliance. In
exchange, Orchard would throw his support behind MacKay
and push him over the top in the final ballot of the
Orchard kept his part of the bargain.
Less than six months later, of course, MacKay made
another deal with another devil — Stephen Harper —
totally abrogating the Orchard agreement and creating
the unprogressive Conservative party.
That looking-out-for-number-1 slipperiness set the
pattern for MacKay. Consider his most recent flip-flop
flap this spring, over whether fellow Nova Scotia Tory
MP Bill Casey should be punished for standing up for
principle on the Atlantic Accord and voting against the
Would Casey be punished?
No, he wouldn't, MacKay promised in the House of
Yes, he was.
Well, getting kicked out of caucus was really Casey's
fault, MacKay blithely explained, because Casey had
actually followed through on his principles — something
MacKay clearly found difficulty understanding.
To make matters worse, MacKay, as the Toronto Star
aptly noted this week, was "no blazing comet" as foreign
In part, of course, that's because Stephen Harper was
really his own foreign minister. MacKay, in public at
least, was mostly just mouthing words written in the PMO
— from cheerleading support for failed American policies
in Iraq to an unqualified thumbs-up for Israel's
relentless bombing campaign against Lebanon last summer.
When MacKay did step out on his own, he often
stumbled. Remember his fawning over his American
counterpart, Condoleezza Rice?
More substantively, his department spent much of the
past year not only denying that prisoners captured by
Canadians in Afghanistan and turned over to local
authorities were being tortured, for example, but also
claiming no reports on Afghan human rights abuses even
existed. When it turned out they did exist and they
revealed real fears prisoners were
being subjected to torture and even murder, MacKay's
excuse was that he hadn't read them.
So what can we expect from MacKay now that he's
Unfortunately, probably more of the same. We are at a
critical point in the Afghanistan war. We need a serious
national conversation about why we're in that troubled
country in the first place, what we've accomplished so
far and whether there is a useful role for us there in
We could use a man of principle to help lead that
discussion. Unfortunately, this week's cabinet shuffle
only gave us a too-glib, me-first spinmeister.
Which is almost certainly bad for Canada.