Peter MacKay gives lesson in how not to handle a PR crisis

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

The manner in which Peter MacKay is responding to allegations he used a military aircraft for personal use is a good lesson in how not to handle a public relations crisis.

Certainly, Mackay is entitled to explain and even defend himself against criticisms.

But instead of fighting back with verbal salvos our defence minister is threatening legal action against MPs who accuse him of lying about taking the flight for 'official' purposes.

In his blog on Thursday, the National Post's Kelly McParland compared MacKay's hapless response to Bob Rae's who faced a similar situation when he, as Premier of Ontario was called-out for hitching a ride to his cottage on a police helicopter.

Rae fessed up immediately and explained the circumstances:

"Balancing time is a hard choice," Rae told the legislature. "For my trips, I have a government car I use. It takes a significant period of time to get to my cottage. It was the long weekend. It was frankly the quickest and fastest way for me to do it."

On the other hand, McParland wrote, MacKay has adopted "the tried and true Harper government approach: deny, evade, threaten, obfuscate, attack the questioner. Never, ever admit a mistake."

"If MacKay had come clean right away and trusted Canadians to judge for themselves (who cares if the defence minister gets a ride on a Cormorant?), the issue probably would have died a quick death," McParland wrote.

York University professor Dr. Dennis Pilon agrees that MacKay has mishandled the issue and says suggestions of a lawsuit against other MPs makes the defence minister look "churlish and vindictive."

"Claims made within the House of Commons are privileged - they cannot be subject to lawsuits...If MPs have called him a liar outside the House, such claims could be subject to a lawsuit," Pilon told Yahoo! Canada News.

"My take, the whole episode looks a bit desperate and MacKay is showcasing his own limited political abilities, which are supposed to include an ability to effectively deflect criticism from the opposition."