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MacKay again denies Tory leadership plans

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OTTAWA—Former cabinet minister Peter MacKay is again trying to quell rumours that he's planning to seek the leadership of the Conservative party should the job come open in the next six months.

MacKay delivered a blistering critique yesterday of Andrew Scheer, calling the current Conservative leader's social conservative values a “stinking albatross” around his neck that cost the party the election.

Hours later, however, he tweeted his support for Scheer, saying his comments were aimed at helping the party improve to win the next election.

“Reports of me organizing (are) false,” MacKay wrote.

“Recent comments (are) about our party's shortcomings and making the necessary improvements (with) modern policies (and) better (communications) so we can win the next election.”

Ever since the Conservatives lost the 2015 campaign, and with it their leader Stephen Harper, MacKay's name has been top of mind for many party faithful as a worthy successor. With Scheer now facing a leadership review after failing to win a majority of House of Commons seats last week, speculation has circulated anew that MacKay might toss his hat into the ring.

Even in the middle of the campaign, reports surfaced anew that MacKay was putting together a team to lay the groundwork for leadership campaign, forcing one of the purported organizers to issue a public denial.

MacKay later flew to his old federal riding of Central Nova to headline a rally there for Scheer, and the local Tory candidate, in the waning days of the campaign. Afterwards, he stood outside, denying any leadership aspirations and sheepishly dismissing the exhortations of dozens of attendees to seek the top job.

Still, with Scheer now facing a leadership review, some Conservatives have been feeding the rumour mill.

MacKay fanned the flames himself Wednesday in Washington, where he told a panel discussion about the election outcome that the loss “was like having a breakaway on an open net and missing the net.”

In particular, he blamed Scheer's failure to reassure Canadians that he wouldn't impose his own religious and social conservative values on the country, making it impossible to capitalize on the “litany” of Liberal controversies dogging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“I think there was a number of issues that became very prevalent in this election that nobody other than the politicos wanted to talk about. People did not want to talk about women's reproductive rights and they didn't want to talk about revisiting the issue of same-sex marriage,” MacKay said.

“And yet that was thrust onto the agenda and hung around Andrew Scheer's neck like a stinking albatross, quite frankly, and he wasn't able to deftly deal with those issues when opportunities arose.”

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