Up for dis­cus­sion

Peter MacKay re­flects on friend­ship with former U.S. Se­na­tor John McCain

The News (New Glasgow) - - FRONT PAGE - BY ADAM MACINNIS

Peter MacKay shares his views on re­cent world mat­ters, in­clud­ing John McCain’s death, Bernier’s exit from the PC Party and NAFTA.

Peter MacKay is back to work in Toronto af­ter a cou­ple weeks in Nova Sco­tia, but his thoughts are still on events from this past week — and it was a full one.

The Con­ser­va­tives held their con­ven­tion in Hal­i­fax, Que­bec MP Maxime Bernier left the Con­ser­va­tive Party, vow­ing to start his own, the U.S. said it reached a trade deal with Mex­ico, and Amer­i­can war vet­eran and po­lit­i­cal leader John McCain died.

On Tues­day, MacKay took some time to share with The News his thoughts on these top­ics.

Pass­ing of John McCain

If Robert Stan­field is the best prime min­is­ter Canada never had, John McCain is the best pres­i­dent Amer­ica never had, says MacKay, Canada’s former for­eign af­fairs and de­fence min­is­ter.

Re­flect­ing on the life of the se­na­tor and former pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, MacKay said he con­sid­ers know­ing McCain one of the great­est hon­ours of his life.

“You get to know cer­tain great­ness through­out your life rarely,” MacKay said. “He falls into that cat­e­gory.”

McCain, who fa­mously re­fused an early re­lease as a pris­oner of war dur­ing the Viet­nam War un­til those who had been cap­tured be­fore him were also re­leased, passed away Aug. 25 at 81. Ser­vices will be held in var­i­ous lo­ca­tions this week, hon­our­ing his life.

MacKay said he first met McCain in 2004 and through his time as a cabi­net min­is­ter, MacKay had on­go­ing in­ter­ac­tions with McCain. They would meet reg­u­larly dur­ing the Hal­i­fax In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity Fo­rum, to which McCain al­ways brought pas­sion and deco­rum. MacKay saw him last this past spring in Ari­zona.

“I came to think of him as a men­tor. Some­one I looked up to and some­one I could con­sider as a friend.”

Through all the fame he would rise to, McCain re­mained hum­ble and main­tained a level of wit.

MacKay re­calls one time in re­cent years vis­it­ing McCain at his of­fice in Ari­zona. McCain showed him some pho­tos that had been re­leased to him from the Viet­nam era, in­clud­ing one with a sign show­ing where McCain’s plane had gone down be­fore he was cap­tured. The trans­la­tion from Viet­namese to English wasn’t great and proudly boasts the place was where the Amer­i­can pi­rate John McCain was cap­tured.

McCain couldn’t help but chuckle at it.

MacKay said this year at the In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity Fo­rum in Hal­i­fax they’ll mark the 10th an­niver­sary of the event by start­ing an award hon­our­ing in­ter­na­tional courage and lead­er­ship, named in John McCain’s honour. He be­lieves it’s a fit­ting trib­ute.

MacKay will re­mem­ber him as a man who al­ways took the high road and wasn’t afraid to reach across party lines and be bi-par­ti­san when it was ap­pro­pri­ate.

“He earned the rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing a bit of a mav­er­ick by go­ing against his party but he did it for all the right rea­sons.”

In a time when Amer­ica is di­vided on many is­sues, he said McCain was a moral com­pass.

“I think John McCain was the great­est pres­i­dent we never had in our life­time.”

On Maxime Bernier’s de­par­ture

MacKay be­lieves Maxime Bernier’s de­par­ture from the Con­ser­va­tive Party will only help Con­ser­va­tive leader An­drew Scheer.

“Any­time you see some­one leave the party you see a de­gree of dis­ap­point­ment, but peo­ple ral­lied around the leader,” said MacKay, who was present at the con­ven­tion. “It cre­ated a bit of mo­men­tum.”

MacKay be­lieves Bernier’s ac­tions speak to the de­gree of anger he’s feel­ing af­ter los­ing the lead­er­ship to Scheer.

“He had to be clearly quite up­set to do what he did.”

If Bernier re­ally wanted to dis­cuss the is­sues he cites as rea­sons for leav­ing — such as sup­ply man­age­ment — MacKay said he should have at­tended the con­ven­tion and pre­sented his views.

“To throw a stink bomb was not very classy,” MacKay said.

MacKay doubts Bernier will find enough sup­port to ei­ther form a party or hurt the Con­ser­va­tives in the next elec­tion and says the fact that Bernier was stand­ing alone dur­ing the press con­fer­ence he made the an­nounce­ment at says a lot.

“To date, he’s a party of one.” MacKay re­calls liv­ing through the times when the Re­form Party broke away from the na­tional Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive Party and Bloc Que­be­cois was formed by mem­bers of both the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive and Lib­eral par­ties. While the party in­cludes a va­ri­ety of per­spec­tives, he doesn’t be­lieve the el­e­ments that ex­isted to cre­ate the divi­sion in the past now ex­ist.

Unity will be key for the Con­ser­va­tive party as they move for­ward, he said.

“You’re free to hold al­ter­na­tive views, but you also have to wear the same coloured sweater and skate in the same di­rec­tion.”

For now, he said it’s im­por­tant for Scheer to con­tinue to travel the country and visit com­mu­ni­ties, large and small, and “to be the gen­uine, re­lat­able and sen­si­ble per­son that he is.”

“I think, frankly, that con­trasts quite clearly with the leader of the Lib­eral party,” he said.

On NAFTA Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump may not be an easy per­son to ne­go­ti­ate with, but Canada did it­self no favours by leav­ing dis­cus­sions of the fu­ture of free trade in North Amer­ica to the U.S. and Mex­ico, MacKay says.

“I’m quite con­cerned, frankly. We’ve been on the side­lines for a month.”

He be­lieves the trou­ble be­gan af­ter the G7 sum­mit when ten­sions rose be­tween Trudeau and Trump.

“I think we’ve had much of our lever­age taken away by the fact Mex­ico and Amer­ica have come to an agree­ment. We sim­ply were not in the room. We’ve been dis­ad­van­taged. We have some ground to make up.”

He said the agree­ment is too im­por­tant to be play­ing pol­i­tics for “do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal gain.”

Now that Canada is back at the ta­ble, he hopes cooler heads will pre­vail.

“We have to be hope­ful that the pro­fes­sional pub­lic ser­vants that are do­ing the heavy lift­ing in this file will bring this to a bet­ter place.”

He be­lieves pre­sent­ing the U.S. with facts that show pos­i­tive el­e­ments of NAFTA will be key. A mar­itime say­ing he per­son­ally feels ap­pro­pri­ate for the NAFTA agree­ment is “a ris­ing tide raises all boats.”

“If this deal goes side­ways for Canada we could suf­fer tremen­dous harm to our econ­omy.”


Peter MacKay with John McCain at his ranch in Ari­zona.


Peter MacKay presents John McCain with an hon­ourary de­gree from Canada’s Royal Mil­i­tary col­lege dur­ing MacKay’s time as min­is­ter of de­fence in 2012.

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