October 31, 2019 / 6:01 PM / a month ago

Potential contender says not gunning for Canada opposition head after election flop

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A potential contender to head Canada’s main opposition Conservative Party on Thursday denied he wanted to oust leader Andrew Scheer despite savaging him for a poor election performance last week.

FILE PHOTO: Peter MacKay introduces the Leader of Canada's Conservatives Andrew Scheer as Scheer campaigns for the upcoming election in Little Harbour, Nova Scotia, Canada October 17, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio/File Photo

Some Conservatives are grumbling about Scheer’s inability to beat Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who started the campaign under the cloud of an ethics scandal and then stumbled after pictures of him in blackface emerged.

Trudeau nonetheless won enough seats to form a minority government and stayed in office.

Former Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay, a party heavyweight, on Wednesday compared Scheer’s performance to missing an easy shot in an ice hockey game and called his socially conservative views on abortion and gay rights “a stinking albatross.”

MacKay said on Thursday his comments were meant to address campaign shortcomings.

“I’ve repeatedly said I support Andrew Scheer and I worked very hard to help him in the campaign. Reports of me organizing are false,” he tweeted.

MacKay variously served as minister of foreign affairs and defense from 2006-2015.

The Conservatives will hold a convention next April and decide whether to review the leadership of Scheer, 40, who was leading his first campaign.

Former Conservative cabinet minister Josee Verner is among those pressing for Scheer to quit.

Scheer - who says he plans to stay - won the leadership in 2017 after heavyweights such as MacKay decided not to run.

Representatives for Scheer were not immediately available on Thursday to comment.

MacKay’s criticism prompted Conservative legislator Chris Warkentin to remark sarcastically: “Big words for someone who didn’t even suit up and get on the ice.”

During the campaign Scheer was repeatedly pressed on his pro-life views and a 2005 speech he made opposing gay marriage, which is legal in Canada. He insisted he would not revisit either issue if he won.

“I think the problem with Andrew Scheer is that people don’t trust him, because they don’t trust him not to let the issue to come up again,” former Conservative Prime Minister Kim Campbell said last Saturday in remarks reported by the iPolitics website.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Dan Grebler

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