Don Martin: MacKay's every misstep getting billboard-sized exposure
Welcome to five-month frontrunner hell, Peter MacKay.
With every indication pointing to a victory-bound cakewalk to the Conservative leadership, if not an outright coronation, the former Harper cabinet minister is being media-microscoped with every misstep getting breathless billboard-sized exposure.
It has always been thus for leaders-in-waiting, of course.
But his $300,000 entry fee had barely been deposited this week when MacKay discovered it also bought non-stop grief in the headlines and on the airwaves.
There was his waffle walk into the minefield of Israeli politics, where the former foreign affairs minister had trouble sounding definitive on the best location for the Canadian embassy.
His climate change views are fuzzy, specifically his support for existing emission reduction targets awkwardly coupled with dog-level loyalty to opposing the best way to achieve them through carbon pricing.
He attracted flak when hovering staff cut off a CTV interview because they didn’t like the drift of the questions – message control overkill MacKay should’ve vetoed on the spot.
His personal Twitter account criticized the Liberal party’s cost of yoga for Justin Trudeau, a cheap shot that apparently MacKay didn’t agree with and scolded his staff for posting.
(I haven’t seen this much staff-blaming since former Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day sniped at aides for not informing him which way the Niagara River was flowing. That under-the-bus-throwing exercise will never be surpassed. I digress.)
But MacKay’s biggest challenge may be to stop looking and sounding like a Conservative clone of Justin Trudeau.
The similarities between the two camera-friendly faces are almost eerie.
Of Generation X vintage with a picture-perfect family of younger children, they were both born to the game as next-generation politicians riding the coattails of famous fathers into the federal realm.
You couldn’t slip a steak knife in the gap between their major social positions and, in an unrelated similarity, they both failed to buy fighter jets when they had the power and money to deliver them.
And, ironically, both politicians suffered serious ethical lapses involving helicopters and islands – Trudeau with his lift to visit the Aga Khan’s island and then-defence-minister MacKay with his military whirlybird hoist from a private fishing lodge in Newfoundland.
But more than optical, demographic or policy parroting, they share great skill at delivering wince-worthy performances. It’s a term I use deliberately because watching them in front of the cameras is to witness bland actors using staff-scripted rhetoric to avoid articulating any thought-provoking ideas.
You may well argue the party leadership limbo is all about lowering the bar to offend the least number of voting members.
But please tell us you’re running for something inspiring or interesting beyond the pursuit of a title, Peter MacKay.
With caucus endorsements piling up - and they matter because the local MP is the super salesperson of voting memberships in a riding - MacKay is well on his way to becoming unbeatable at the June convention.
That may be more cause for concern than celebration for Conservatives believing they’re one writ-drop away from returning to power.
Trudeau did well well in handling the horrific aftershocks of the Canadians killed on the Ukrainian plane shot down by Iran.
And his government is handling the coronavirus outbreak with the right balance between serious precaution and panic-suppression.
If MacKay keeps tripping over much smaller stuff, he risks delivering leadership at a dubious level many Conservatives thought was impossible – Trudeau Lite.