Though he’s currently away from the political spotlight, Peter MacKay gave his thoughts on Canada’s future, the economy and global politics at the third annual CanaData West conference in Vancouver.
The former minister of national defence, foreign affairs and justice expressed support for pipelines and LNG to jumpstart the sputtering economy.
"We need pipelines in this country like never before," he said. "We need to be able to get our energy to tidewater and into the market. The economic case is clear."
MacKay also explained that developing more energy independence from Russia can take away some of its power to pressure nations. He sees the East Coast as the most likely region for much of this development to happen.
"We have to move or we will get left behind," he said.
MacKay criticized the Trudeau government for high business taxes and its deficit budget.
"High tax kills jobs," he said. "Business taxes are already among the highest in North America. That is not going to allow companies to hire more people. Wringing more dollars out at this time, I would argue, is not going to have its intended effect."
He called Trudeau’s budget "staggering" as there is only one tax dollar that can be collected and spent and it leaves debt for future generations.
"I think a lot about the next generation and what awaits them," he said. "There is no plan to get back to balance and that’s a concern."
Much of the budget spending is focused on rebuilding the country’s aging infrastructure. While MacKay is in favour of building, he remained critical of the deficit budget, saying the process needs to be more incremental.
"Spending gobs of money is not going to be the answer," he said, citing a home improvement tax as one example of how it could be done. "Your industry is a big part of the solution. We need to build this country in a way that includes everybody. You don’t do that by punishing any one sector or by throwing borrowed money at complex problems."
MacKay also was critical of Trudeau’s carbon tax, which he said isn’t fair when other larger countries, like China or India, aren’t following suit.
"Competition is good," said MacKay, "but we have to put our country first. Sometimes that means backing away from tearing down government and the opposition’s ideas."
He added he believes Trudeau is doing that.
MacKay represented Pictou-Antigonish-Guysborough from 1997 to 2004 and the riding of Central Nova from 2004 until 2015, when he decided not to run in that year’s federal election. After the Conservatives lost last year’s election, he was considered one of the top contenders to lead the party following former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
In February 2016, MacKay joined Toronto law firm Baker & McKenzie as a partner. In September he announced he did not intend to run for leader of the party.
He said he felt blessed to have been able to represent Canadians at home and abroad and recalled his time at a forward operating base in Afghanistan, with Canadian and American forces working together to fight the Taliban.
"They were there to defend the local population, to bring about stability and to bring the country to a point where they could control their own borders," MacKay said.
With the rise of ISIS, homegrown terrorism and Russian aggression, it is more important than ever to partner with like-minded nations, explained MacKay.
"I never thought I would see that in my lifetime," MacKay said of Russian naval vessels going through the English Channel on their way to Syria. "It is troubling in the extreme."
MacKay expressed his confidence and admiration in current Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan, who he first met when he was serving in Afghanistan.
"He is a good man and he has his eye on the right things," MacKay said.
While MacKay praised Canada’s ties to the U.S., he expressed concern over the tension and issues raised during its long election process.
"I am very reticent to go down that road," he said. "I surely hope we do not follow that course."
He added the contest between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump has disintegrated to a shouting match where the candidates are only in search of how to diminish the other side.
"It’s as divisive as it’s ever been. Nov. 9 won’t be the end of it," he said. "I never thought I would see the U.S. so paralyzed by its own system."
But he explained the encouraging thing about the U.S. system is the checks and balances the Senate, House of Representatives and president have on each other.
MacKay added he also supports trade deals like NAFTA and TPP, which he will be keeping an eye on based on the outcome of the U.S. election.