Justice Minister Peter MacKay to announce he’s leaving federal politics

OTTAWA — Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay is retiring from federal politics after nearly two decades of public service, much of it spent atop some of the most prestigious portfolios in government.

The significance of MacKay’s sudden and unexpected departure is reflected by who will stand next to him later Friday as he confirms his intentions at an event in Stellarton, N.S.: Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The pair formed the foundation for the modern Conservative party; MacKay’s departure is another crack in the concrete for the prime minister, who faces a campaign this fall with another long-time deputy missing from the ballot.

MacKay, who turns 50 this fall, is expecting a second child later this year with his wife Nazanin Afshin-Jam, a human rights activist he wed three and a half years ago.

Though he had filed his nomination papers for his Central Nova riding earlier this year, the impending arrival of a new baby shifted his thinking, several sources told The Canadian Press.

“These personal decisions aren’t easy: six terms and family and travel,” fellow cabinet minister James Moore said on Twitter. 

MacKay was first elected in 1997, and went on to head the Progressive Conservative party, ultimately leading to a merger with the Canadian Alliance in 2003 that would spawn the Conservative party in its current form.

He did not challenge Stephen Harper for the leadership of the new Conservative party, instead going on to lead some of government’s most prominent portfolios: Foreign Affairs, Defence and finally, Justice.

It was a full-circle move for MacKay, who was motivated to join politics after working as a criminal prosecutor in Nova Scotia. Being shuffled into the portfolio in 2013 was in part considered a thank-you gift from the prime minister for his years of loyal service.  

Harper was told weeks ago of MacKay’s decision; the fact he was planning to be on hand at Friday’s announcement reflects the bond between the two men, characterized by many as strong and productive.

The prime minister, a keen historian, chose to travel to Nova Scotia not only as a show of support for MacKay’s decision, but to mark a significant milestone for his party.

It’s also an important time to show support for Conservatives in the region; MacKay’s departure deprives the Atlantic provinces of one of its strongest voices from the area.

Harper was last in Nova Scotia just two weeks ago, and while there, his wife Laureen attended a party fundraiser for Scott Armstrong, the sole Conservative incumbent now standing for re-election in the province.

MPs Gerald Keddy and Greg Kerr had announced months ago they would not be running again.

The party only holds four seats in the province. The NDP hold three and the Liberals four.

“It certainly … gives us a better chance in his old riding come the next election,” said Liberal MP John McCallum, while also wishing MacKay well.

Polls suggest the Liberals have the lead in the province going into the fall campaign, with the Conservatives currently in second.

“The Harper government will miss the progressive voice of Peter MacKay at the table,” said Bill Casey, a Nova Scotian who was a PC MP with MacKay but is running for the Liberals in the next election against Armstrong.

Speculation that MacKay would step back from federal politics ahead of this campaign has been swirling for months, ramping up every time another member of the Conservative caucus chose to walk away.

Among them has been former foreign affairs minister John Baird, who abruptly announced his decision in February, stepping back immediately from cabinet and from his Ottawa-area seat a few weeks later.

He had only informed Harper of his decision the night before and has since accepted several private sector jobs.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press