Conservative Party leadership hopeful Peter MacKay makes Manitoulin stop, declares intent to be a unifying leader

Conservative Party of Canada leader candidate Peter MacKay, centre, visited Little Current last Wednesday, August 5 to speak with party members and share his vision, should they elect him as their leader. Speaking with Mr. MacKay, from left, is Dave Williamson, who ran for the Conservatives in Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing in the recent federal election; Aubrey Millard and Jib Turner, who hosted the event at his home and has run for the Ontario Progressive Conservatives in Algoma-Manitoulin. photo by Warren Schlote

LITTLE CURRENT – Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate Peter MacKay visited the home of long-time Conservative supporters Jib and Debby Turner in Little Current last Wednesday, August 5, marking the politician’s first time on Manitoulin Island as he travels to secure votes for his bid to become the next federal Tory leader.

“I’ve always wanted to come here (to Manitoulin Island),” Mr. MacKay told the gathering, adding that his university roommate—Brian Sugg, formerly of Little Current—frequently promoted the Island’s merits.

Mr. Turner said he was excited to have Mr. MacKay at his home, especially considering the prospective leader was who he hoped would win the contest. Mr. Turner has been active in the Conservative Party even before he reached voting age when he would drive people to polling stations as a teenager.

“I think (Mr. MacKay) has got broad reach; he’s well known. I like his jobs plan and he’s probably the most diverse in the way that he can gain support in almost any part of the party,” said Mr. Turner, acknowledging the fractured nature of the party.

He credited his past federal minister positions and his role in co-founding the present day Conservative Party of Canada as major assets. He said Mr. MacKay’s proposed federal energy strategy would be a great asset to fight back the federal deficit and said the candidate’s Nova Scotian roots would have introduced him to similar challenges as exist on Manitoulin Island.

Mr. Turner also lauded his pledge to increase connectivity with rural communities to enhance Canada’s digital economy.

One person poised to benefit from that digital expansion was Tom Ondrejicka, CEO of IT company Edhaptic, which is opening an office above the Turner’s store in downtown Little Current (which originally served a communication purpose as a telegraph and telephone office).

“There isn’t a person today who doesn’t use broadband,” said Mr. Ondrejicka. “We have the opportunity to make Canadians superior when it comes to our tech sector.”

Back at his general address, Mr. MacKay said campaigning during a pandemic has revealed the optimistic nature of Canadians. However, he said some of that feeling has begun to slip because of a perceived reduction in opportunities and the ability to get the country’s natural resources to market.

“People have come from all over and they did so because of our freedoms and opportunities. In this country, you can fulfill every dream,” said Mr. MacKay.

He joked with the crowd that having three young children has prepared him for dealing with people in the house of commons. He criticized the Trudeau government for its involvement in the WE Charity scandal, while dismissing the student grant program as a political tactic.

“(The Canada Student Service Grant) is about the indoctrination of young people into the Liberal party. It’s about building a database of contacts and saying that ‘only the Liberals care about Canada,’” he said.

Mr. MacKay’s vision to recover the economy post-pandemic, if selected as leader and elected as future prime minister, will be to make use of Canada’s natural resources. He cited Canada’s contribution of 1.4 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions as an indicator that Canada wasn’t the problem and that by extracting fossil fuel resources, it may shift power away from foreign countries with poor human rights records or inequitable governments.

“We can be the country that cracks the climate change atom, but we’ll have to pay for that somehow, and the way we’ll do that is by selling our natural resources to the world,” he said.

Mr. MacKay extoled the benefits of increasing manufacturing in Canada, both for domestic consumption and exporting. To accomplish all of the above goals, however, Canada needs to continue to invite immigrants and allow them to legally move through the proper channels rather than taking improper channels, he said.

Peter MacKay

Preparing for an election will be one of Mr. MacKay’s first goals if elected party leader. He said the factors of the pandemic, the WE scandal, state of the economy and the approaching tax season might increase chances for an election if the public’s perception softens on the governing Liberals, an “election-winning machine” according to Mr. MacKay.

However, he said Canadians rejecting the Grits would not be enough to put the Tories into power.

“We need thoughtful policy, good candidates and to get our party together to become the party-in-waiting to step up when Canada needs us,” he said.

He added that he didn’t expect the Bloc to “have the stomach” to call an election and said “they don’t like the Canadian flag unless it’s on a paycheque.” As for the NDP, he said those MPs enjoy being at home rather than in parliament and are “eating out of Trudeau’s hand.”

An attendee expressed dismay over recent Liberal gun control legislation. Mr. MacKay vowed to scrap the new legislation and said the focus should be on combatting gangs and reducing cross-border smugglers of illegal handguns.

He vowed to reduce citizens’ tax burden by increasing the basic personal amount on income taxes, though he did not offer a specific amount when asked by The Expositor. He said he was against luxury taxes and said it was important to address the growing productivity gap by giving temporary foreign workers a path to citizenship and encouraging foreign students to stay in Canada by offering more good jobs.

Pat and Heather Parker travelled to meet Mr. MacKay from their home in Espanola. The two are Conservative members and while they normally agree on their candidate of choice, they were split on their positions this year. 

Although they declined to publicly share their preferred leaders, they indicated one was in favour of Mr. MacKay and the other had an interest in another candidate.

Both said they were excited for the opportunity to meet the candidate and discuss the future of the party alongside fellow Conservatives.