a weekly blog for all interested in professional communications issues

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Peter MacKay, the sequel

Normally, wearing a baseball cap that mocks your employer anywhere near the office would be considered a dumb career move. And being widely quoted in the media as critical of your employer’s policy would be considered suicide – especially when your boss is Stephen Harper.

But maybe Peter MacKay, Canada’s defence minister (for now), is being dumb like a fox.

In the past week, it has been MacKay’s turn to dole out the humiliation after being very publicly cut out of the loop over the extended mission in Afghanistan the previous week.

First MacKay sported a red baseball cap that said ``Fly Emirates’’ during a fire drill on Parliament Hill. Then he told a couple of fellow Tories in the presence of a radio reporter that continued refusal to allow flights to and from the United Arab Emirates beyond a couple of times a week was unwise.

Subsequently, MacKay told the media at large that diplomatic relations with the Emirates have been set back 10 years by Ottawa’s intransigence on the landing rights.

To finish off the week. MacKay joined the Prime Minister on a flight to Lisbon for the NATO Summit. The atmosphere on the plane might have been a bit frigid.

So what was MacKay up to?

Most ministers publicly breaking ranks like that would be on the back benches by now. But MacKay is in a unique position as the last leader of the Progressive Conservatives before the merger with the Alliance that formed the current Conservative party.

Aside from the fact that Harper owes MacKay for going along with the merger, the Prime Minister knows that bouncing his defence minister from cabinet will set off speculation about a rift in the party.

It is pretty obvious the Conservatives would like to have a spring election after the 2011 budget even though the most rabid Harperites don’t expect to win a majority. An election before economic growth can slow down any more simply makes strategic sense.

Plans for a spring election would have to be shelved if speculation about an internal rift gets out of hand. So MacKay likely is the minister with the most job security at least until the next cabinet shuffle.

MacKay likely will make a career change in the New Year. Perhaps he will join Jim Prentice in self-imposed exile Bay Street and wait for his party’s leadership to come open.

After almost five years of minority government, a Conservative leadership race is a growing likelihood. After all this amalgamated party never did get around to a founding policy convention after its factions – the Red Tories versus the Neo Cons – spent years disliking each other.

The Conservatives likely will win the next election. But a victory with fewer seats would almost certainly bring out the knives for their leader.

In the meantime, Prentice and MacKay and who knows who else may be watching and waiting.

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