Wednesday, August 15, 2007

MacKay's McJob

Now that Peter MacKay has had one full day to settle into his new job as Minister of National Defence, it's time to start looking at what went so wrong that he ended up there.

There had been rumblings that MacKay was having difficulty handling what amounted to two ministries - Foreign Affairs plus Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

If that's the case, something is terribly wrong with his shift to Defence.

Foreign Affairs is arguably the more senior of the two: Foreign Affairs and Defence. So, however slight it might be, there is something of a demotion involved. That doesn't mean Defence is any easier than FA. The minister is responsible for eleven separate functions aside from defence policy plus is the Lead Minister for Search and Rescue. It's a full plate for a competent minister and Peter MacKay has not proven to be the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Add the mission to Afghanistan into that mix and you've got an in-box which is overflowing. It's also the kind of ministry which someone who might aspire to party leadership would probably try to avoid, particularly given the fact that the likelihood of more Canadians coming home in caskets is still quite real.

The post of Minister of National Defence has generally not produced future party leaders and under current conditions, it could be considered the kiss of death for a rising political career.

900ft Jesus, in comments, made a good point of this, including the fact that this may well be Harper playing a Rovian game to eliminate MacKay as a possible threat to Harper's leadership sometime in the future. Analysts are curious as to why MacKay, who views himself as a risen star within the Conservative Party, ended up in Defence.
Peter McKenna, who teaches Canadian and international politics at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown, said most ambitious young politicians would not want to be named defence minister.

"The first thing they might want to ask themselves is, 'Why am I getting this job - is it my competence or is it because I am on the outs with the prime minister?'" McKenna said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper switched MacKay to defence from the more prestigious foreign affairs portfolio. The two men had been rivals to lead the Conservative party.


"It's probably not going to be seen as a stepping stone to obtaining leadership of the Conservative party in the future," he said.

For that reason, McKenna said, the prime minister may have had personal reasons for putting MacKay in the defence portfolio.

"We all know that the relationship between Mr. Harper and Peter MacKay is not that good. I think it may be a little Machiavellian of Harper, because he probably figures it will be very difficult for him [MacKay] to look good," McKenna said.

"I think it works to Harper's advantage, to keep Peter MacKay offside, and to ensure that he doesn't get any positive press."

Just to add to that, MacKay remained Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

That's just plain weird. I can't ever remember a time when the Minister of National Defence had a second distinctly different portfolio. In fact, during the 2nd World War the MND had two additional ministers plus an Associate Minister of National Defence. The AMND portfolio has been filled by various prime ministers, particularly when the Department of National Defence was undergoing significant change, growth, or was engaged in a high-intensity conflict - like the current mission to Afghanistan.

The fact that MacKay is responsible for DND when the Canadian Forces are in a hot conflict plus has to deal with the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency looks like an intentional set-up for failure. If MacKay, as reported, was having difficulty juggling Foreign Affairs and ACOA, he doesn't stand a chance now.

And the question has to be asked. Which of the two cabinet positions does Harper think is a part time McJob? I know where I'd place my bets and it wouldn't make too many maritimers very happy

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