Last week, federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay announced his intended departure from politics with Prime Minister Stephen Harper at his side. MacKay becomes the latest on a worrying list of Conservative cabinet ministers to head to potentially greener pastures in recent months. Since his retirement in February, John Baird, the former foreign affairs minister, is sitting pretty on Barrick Gold Corp.’s international advisory board, as a director with Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. and as an investment advisor to a Chinese billionaire.
MacKay, rather than hint at lucrative opportunities in the private sector, instead focused on his family as the reason for departure. (A cynic might argue that the 49-year-old was partly motivated by about $1.3 million in pension benefits that he otherwise wouldn’t have been able to claim under new MP retirement rules passed in 2013. Those rules will mean all politicians elected after the next election must wait until age 65, up from age 55, before they can draw a pension.)
National Post columnist Andrew Coyne delivered a brilliant and succinct piece about MacKay’s time in power on the weekend. Breezing over the minister’s memorable moments – dating the Conservative-to-Liberal defector Belinda Stronach, using a military helicoptor for a fishing trip, overseeing the botched F-35 procurement file – Coyne’s most poignant summary went as follows: “… (MacKay) was responsible for shepherding a number of bills through Parliament that seemed almost designed to be found unconstitutional, even as Justice department lawyers were losing case after case at the Supreme Court. Other than that, there isn’t a great deal to say.”
But there is so much to say about the broken state of Canadian politics. The outcome of the Alberta election, if it foreshadows anything about the public’s mood towards the relentless Harper-Mulcair-Trudeau battle, reveals a country that perhaps has finally seen through the Conservative’s false claim that Canada will economically crumble if another party gains power. (As a side note, Harper’s transparent messaging has switched of late from Strong on the Economy to the supposed dangers of the outside world and the imminent threat of terrorism.)
As Coyne points out, MacKay was mostly a blip on the political screen, trotting proudly beside a leader who continues to reshape our country into a thing desired mostly by bankers and investors, spooks and multinationals. Perhaps MacKay is disillusioned, as many Canadians are, by Harper’s relentless agenda. Perhaps the minister senses that change is in the wind, a view held by many political strategists who understand that the Canadian public likely can’t stomach the rapid deviations on environmental and social policies whipped through Parliament under the guise of safety and economic viability.
The public’s mood will remain cynical until the October election, and Harper cabinet dropouts like MacKay are simply adding fuel to that fire.