The relationship between a political leader and past (and future?) competitors for the leadership is always an interesting one to me. After a high-pressure campaign, it takes great control and a bit of gamesmanship to manage the relationship between the victor and his or her former rivals. I find the relationship between Peter Mackay and Stephen Harper quite interesting along these lines.
Out of the gate, Harper gave Mackay the Foreign Affairs ministry, a high-profile portfolio that would be unlikely to make immediate enemies of the Canadian public, as it has little to do with handing out or withholding services to Canadians. And, perhaps because he didn’t want to appear to be stifling his main rival, Mackay was just about the only minister seemingly allowed to comment on his own department for much of the last year. Lately, other ministers have stepped forward like John Baird, but for many silence has to be considered a job perk or burden.
At some level, it appears that Harper and Mackay have come to some sort of agreement on “power sharing” – Harper in absolute control and Mackay as a leader-in-waiting should Harper blow a political gasket. However, Mackay can’t be totally happy with the situation – there is little doubt that his ambitions go far beyond representing Nova Scotia at the Cabinet table.
So how must the events of the last few months gall him? Within a two-week period, Trenton Works, the railcar manufacturer and one of the largest employers in Mackay’s home riding, is allowed to go under without a peep from the feds or a word from Mackay, and then immediately following the Quebec provincial election, Harper hands out a stupid quantity of cash to Bombardier to “level the playing field”, whatever that means.
There are very few ways to read this except as a rebuke to rural Nova Scotia and as a special message to Peter Mackay personally. To Nova Scotians, there is no longer any doubt that, far from comlaining about our “culture of defeat” any longer, Harper is quite happy to maintain it as the status quo. It’s his little way of telling Bluenosers exactly how much he needs or wants our votes, at least not when he can be spending the money to grab a greater share of the Quebec electoral pie.
As for Mackay, well, he just gets left dangling on the hook, trying to explain next campaign how losing hundreds of good-paying jobs in fact is a benefit to the local economy.
But today, Stephane Dion just did Mackay a favour. A favour in disguise, to be sure, but a favour nonetheless. Today, when Dion announced that the Liberals will not run anyone in Mackay’s riding to give Elizabeth May a better chance in his Pictou seat next time around, he opened the door to a likely easy victory next time around, and perhaps another kick at the leadership sometime in the future.
On the surface, Dion’s announcement removes one party from the centre-left that could split the vote away from the Greens, so it is a good deal for Elizabeth May. However, May’s Greens will be in it tough against the NDP, a party which finished a surprisingly strong second in the riding last election, and I don’t think that there is any way enough of the NDP vote will turn Green to make the riding go the same. This merely makes it more difficult for the NDP, who otherwise would have had a legitimate chance at snatching the seat.
To be certain this is not a guaranteed victory for Mackay, but it probably improves his chances. The question really is, whether Harper would voluntarily lose a seat or two to sink potential rivals. My bet is that he’s enough of a political bastard to make that very trade, and so I expect even further bad news for Nova Scotia generally, and Central Nova specifically, in the near future.