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Peter MacKay launches his campaign promising to unify and expand Conservative Party

OTTAWA — Peter MacKay officially launched his leadership campaign on Saturday with a speech that emphasized his experience on the world stage, and promised to unify and expand the Conservative Party ahead of the next election.

“Together we’ll expand outward that big blue tent, while strengthening its solid poles of conservative principle,” he said in a speech in Stellarton, Nova Scotia, the area which he represented in Parliament from 1997 to 2015.

“I stand here before you today with my heart on my sleeve for every Canadian, whoever you love, wherever you live,” he said.

The speech leaned heavily on MacKay’s experience in senior cabinet roles during Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, particularly his time as foreign affairs minister and defence minister. While pitching himself as a Prime Minister in waiting, he also took shots at Justin Trudeau.

“I’ve taken part in negotiations on behalf of our country at NATO and UN tables,” he said. “Leadership on the world stage requires serious diplomacy. To advance Canada’s interests requires authenticity of action, measured by outcomes, not selfies or photo ops or dressing up or dancing.”

He said Canada and the planet are facing “big challenges with big complicated questions,” but the current Liberal government is “shrugging and often doing more harm than good, virtue signalling without action.”

However, there were no specific policy proposals in the speech. Notably, the speech made no mention of climate change, instead discussing the general importance of protecting the environment.

“We’re stewards of the environment,” he said. “The greatest gift that we’ve received as Canadians, alongside our freedom and democracy, is our natural splendour of land and sea.”

MacKay is widely seen as the frontrunner in the Conservative leadership race, which will end June 27 in Toronto. His main competition, at least for the time being, is expected to be Ontario MP Erin O’Toole. O’Toole is launching is campaign Monday in Alberta.

Three high-profile potential contenders for the Conservative leadership race — Jean Charest, Rona Ambrose and Pierre Poilieve — all dropped out over the past week. However, candidates still have until Feb. 27 to enter the race, so others may come forward.

Other candidates who have declared their intention to run include Ontario MPs Marilyn Gladu and Derek Sloan, Alberta businessman Rick Peterson, and former Conservative staffer Richard Decarie.

Decarie has the backing of prominent social conservatives and has already generated huge controversy for going on national TV and claiming that being gay is a choice. Some Conservatives have now called on the leadership organizing committee to bar Decarie from running for being too out of touch with the party’s principles.

MacKay strongly denounced Decarie’s views earlier this week, but his campaign will still need to walk a fine line in courting social conservatives, a large voting bloc during Conservative leadership races. At the same time, his speech also called for the party to be more inclusive of the whole country as it prepares to fight Trudeau in the next election.

“We must be sure that the face of the nation is reflected in the face of the Conservative Party of Canada,” MacKay said.

He said the ultimate goal has to be for the party to come together, despite its differences. Otherwise, the result is “more years of Justin Trudeau.”

“We’ve all lived through the realities of what can happen when conservatives are not united,” he said. “We know firsthand how important it is that we do our part not to divide ourselves, our party or our nation. Divided, we falter, we fail.”

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