Peter MacKay

Peter MacKay is pictured in a 2020 file photo, supplied by his campaign team.

Peter MacKay is one of several vying to replace Andrew Scheer as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Born in New Glasgow, N.S., in 1965, he was first elected to Parliament in 1997 at the age of 31. His portfolios over the next 18 years included attorney general, minister of national defence, minister of foreign affairs and leader of the Progressive Conservative Party.

He did not seek re-election in 2015 and instead returned to his career as a lawyer.

MacKay announced his candidacy on Jan. 15 and this week became the first accredited campaign, the first to receive the membership list, to raise $500,000 and to surpass the required 3,000 signatures. Although there are presently 10 declared candidates seeking the leadership, political pundits and polls see MacKay as the frontrunner.

MacKay spent Tuesday in Vancouver and spoke by phone with Okanagan Newspaper Group valley editor James Miller, who was one of the first print journalists from Western Canada to have one-on-one access.

Although he didn't make it to the valley on this trip, MacKay said he hopes to visit the region at some point during the campaign.

The following are highlights of MacKay's interview with the Okanagan Newspaper Group.

MILLER: Do you and your campaign team pay any attention to the Democratic nomination race in the U.S.?

MACKAY: I think in short, we're always interested in watching how democratic processes unfold for issues of efficiency, for finding new and innovative ways to include people. As a party, we sometimes get knocked for not being inclusive with Canadians, technologies, with ways in which we can engage people more directly. And young people are so very into these new technologies. You almost have to make a specific effort to marry up their fascination with technology and then having access to democratic process. We're moving quickly in that regard. It is interesting to see how they are going through this process in the States ... and elsewhere. There are other countries that clearly have made advances — the European Union. Online voting, I think that's something we're going to see in the future and that helps in a country as large and with as many remote communities as we have — as long as you can assure the sanctity of the process.

MILLER: If successful in winning the nomination, what does Peter MacKay have to offer Canadian voters that the others don't?

MACKAY: What I bring is my experience — both my prior experience in public life, but having now worked in the private sector. I come from a small town, but I've worked in the big city, like Toronto, so I understand the changing demographics of the country, the divide frankly between rural and urban communities and how we bridge that in terms of providing services and solutions. I want to talk very much about solutions, practical, costed answers to the challenges a lot of Canadians are facing in their daily lives. Government seems to have morphed now into a problem, more than a solution. That's not really the Conservative philosophy. We want to move to smaller, more-efficient government with the ability to respond to challenges, but not insert unnecessary government bureaucracy that's slowing down the economy. Government has the responsibility to take care of people and it has to be properly funded and structured, but I'm a big believer in the free economy. I'm a big believer in the private sector helping generate wealth and opportunity and growth and jobs. Government can be the enabler, but in many cases, government with excessive bureaucracy can be a barrier to a free market that thrives.

MILLER: In the last election, the Conservatives won the popular vote, but ultimately didn't form government. What, in your opinion, went wrong?

MACKAY: I think it was partly message. Issues like the environment, truly do matter and need to be addressed. I'm not a believer that more tax will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We have to come out with a comprehensive climate plan and I think that what we are seeing now is the disproportionate impact that increased taxes have on those who don't have alternatives. Alternatives for transportation, for how they heat their homes. This is an unfair approach that frankly isn't working. We are not seeing a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. It's a licence to pollute. I want to see greater emphasis on technology, investments in research and development that will actually make Canada a leader in providing solutions for climate change and we're clearly overpromising and under-delivering when it comes to our clean-air targets. We have an established record as Conservatives, which brought in the Acid Rain Treaty. We did a lot in terms of protecting waters like the Great Lakes and other sensitive areas. The Arctic is something that I'm very concerned about and focused on, having gone there as a young person and having worked in the Arctic and years later returned as minister of defence and foreign affairs. Climate change is real. Nobody has to convince me that there isn't a very real change happening as a result. What we do about it and how we address our own greenhouse gas emissions and how we contribute more broadly is up to us. I think we're at a place where we are doing a lot of talking, but we're not doing much to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

MILLER: Having travelled across Canada, what issues do you see being important to British Columbians that not have the same emphasis elsewhere in the country?

MACKAY: One we've just been talking about it. Climate issues tend to be much more front and centre in British Columbia. I think specific issues of forestry are of massive importance to the B.C. economy. It's facing more uncertainty. It's not only a cornerstone of B.C.'s economy, it's also one of the biggest employers here. The mills, the producers and the people I've talked to out here are feeling that uncertainty. Costly tariffs, more duties, threats of litigation. The conclusion of the new USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement) — the replacement for NAFTA — didn't really answer the mail on some of these issues. The softwood lumber agreement has not worked out on favourable terms, even under the previous American administration, the Obama administration. These are bread-and-butter issues for British Columbians for jobs, how to feed their families, how to pay their mortgages. Our previous (Conservative) governments have a very solid record of having stood up for forestry families. Canadian energy production, I also see as a primary resource industry, working towards a more efficient production and delivery to overseas markets — on the West Coast, it's more the Asian-Pacific. LNG is a cross-cutting issue. It helps our economy, it's a major commodity that the world needs. What we can do to lower greenhouse gas emissions is getting many of these big polluters — China, Pakistan, India, who are still building coal-fire generators.... If we are able to efficiently deliver highly-regulated and competitively-cost LNG to those jurisdictions, now we're doing something. Now we're lowering greenhouse gas emissions in other jurisdictions, receiving a benefit for making our product available and competing with less-ethical producers of energy. I'm thinking of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Algeria, others. So we're doing more than our part at home, we're having an impact internationally. We take those return on investments and we invest in new, green technologies that are currently being developed in our country. A big part of this is delivery and that's pipelines. As contentious as it is, there are many existing pipelines that we're looking to expand, increase capacity or get into new markets. The Energy East pipeline project was arguably a once-in-a-generation opportunity to increase productivity, but also raise all boats (as we say in the proverbial sense) in helping the economy of Atlantic Canada, providing a needed-fuel source to that part of the country so we're not relying on foreign oil. There's a classic win-win-win or a good deal for everyone if we do this properly.

MILLER: Do you agree with the legalization of cannabis?

MACKAY: I don't. It should have been de-criminalized and that's where our government was heading on the advice of the Canadian Police Association and chiefs of police. Bringing in a phased-way with decriminalization would have been far preferable. What I most worry about is the impact on young people, the mental health implications, the impaired driving implications. It was forced. The entire issue was rushed. I believe it wasn't the highest priority for an incoming government. It was the back-of-a-napkin promise that the current prime minister had made. I believe we have jumped the shark on that issue. More emphasis on protecting people from other drugs, fentanyl and oxycontin has to be part of any plan that's there for public health reasons. The promise that it (legalization) was going to reduce the black market has been a complete failure. There's now simply more marijuana available to more people, including young people. I don't think that's the most productive and highest priority that a government could pursue.

MILLER: If elected prime minister, what would your first priority be?

MACKAY: I think it's focusing back on the economy. We have a number of wheels within wheels when it comes to making our country more productive, more profitable, more competitive. Lowering taxes has to be part of that approach. Repairing some of the foreign relations disasters that we've seen. Working to assure we're competitive in places like Europe, hopefully more so in the U.K. A potential trade deal is there if we work hard. Canada's security system is something that I've always emphasized. Shoring up our defences in the Arctic, support for the Canadian Armed Forces and emergency responders will always be a very high priority for me. That's a long answer to a number of issues that I think have to be addressed. Putting the economy more front and centre and approaching this in a more business-like way and a less-superficial way is certainly my priority.

MILLER: I understand you've visited Afghanistan on 20 occasions.

MACKAY: Yes. I've been in a lot of the world where Canadian Forces have distinguished themselves, working through NATO and working on international missions. But here at home, the home game is of great importance and a great priority. We need to update our defences in North America. We need to do that in unison with the Americans and we need the equipment to properly train the members of the Canadian Forces. We're in danger of losing some of our capacity right now, particularly when it comes to fighter jets.

MILLER: You were first elected as a Progressive Conservative in 1997. Is there a difference?

MACKAY: We've evolved very much as a party. What I am is a Canadian conservative. I believe very strongly in protecting people's individual rights. We have to have protections for those who are struggling. But, I believe in fiscal accountability. We've discussed smaller government, a competitive economy, government getting out of the way of the private sector when necessary. I don't find hyphenated labels to be particular useful. You can be progressive or more Conservative on one policy and less so on another. It's individualized. On subjects of inclusivity and diversity, our party has a strong and proud record on subjects like immigration, on subjects of people feeling comfortable within our party, within our government. I'm proud of the fact that we're a big blue tent — I use that well-worn expression. There's ample factual proof of that. Kim Campbell being the first female prime minister in Canadian history, the indigenous vote, John Diefenbaker's Bill of Rights. I'm not that interested in doing a complete retrospective, but I realize our party has a history of being inclusive and having put Canada in a better place.