Peter MacKay was "not happy" with a tweet issued by his leadership team poking fun at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's yoga habit, the Conservative leadership candidate told CBC News today.
The tweet — from MacKay's verified account — shows a photo of Trudeau performing a yoga move on a desk on Parliament Hill. The caption says that "while running for leader of the Liberal Party, Trudeau's campaign expensed $876.95 in yoga sessions and spa bills for Justin Trudeau. Liberals can't be trusted."
MacKay said he wants to maintain a "civilized" tone in his campaign for the Conservative leadership and thinks that tweet crossed a line. But he said he won't apologize for it or take it down.
"Well, it's factual, but I want to keep the tone civilized," he said. "I want to keep the tone about solutions. I want to move to a better place and a better discourse. And so ... I am not happy at the way that I was put up on my site. And I voiced that to my team.
"I didn't have eyes on that (tweet). And you know, that happens in the early days of a campaign. We're getting our messaging and our communication down. I'm travelling about the country and we have people on the ground making certain decisions, and so we've tightened that up now to a better approval process."
MacKay himself has been attacked in the past over spending decisions. In July 2010, when he was the minister of defence, MacKay was airlifted by a search and rescue helicopter from a private fishing lodge near Gander, N.L. so he could catch a flight back for a government announcement. The Cormorant helicopter used to transport MacKay cost $32,000 an hour to operate; MacKay's trip to the airport took 25 minutes, including a 15-minute hoist exercise.
MacKay insisted again today that was an appropriate use of government resources. "The reality is I was a government minister using a government asset to do government work, and that's an entirely different scenario than the one that was pointed out," he said.
Since the leadership race got underway, both MacKay's campaign and the one supporting Ontario MP Erin O'Toole's leadership run have been sending out some pugnacious messages online.
O'Toole, for example, has been urging his supporters to "take Canada back" and is accusing the Trudeau Liberals of seeking to "control news you read online" — an apparent reference to an expert panel's report on streaming services and media licensing.
Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault appeared before reporters today to walk back comments he made over the weekend that seemed to indicate the government plans to license media outlets. "Our government has no intention to impose licensing requirements on news organizations, nor will we try to regulate news content," Guilbeault said Monday.
Michelle Austin, head of government and policy relations at Twitter Canada, said an aggressive tone online won't serve leadership candidates in the long run.
"I think Canadians want from the Conservative Party a bigger conversation and a more inclusive conversation. I believe that is the message that they received from the 2019 election," she said. "So I think, if it was me advising them, I would use platforms like Twitter to launch themselves but also to engage in a conversation.
"Talk about new ideas, talk about new strategies, talk about how you're going to win. I wouldn't go as negative as fast."
MacKay is considered the frontrunner in the leadership race. A recent Léger poll of Conservative voters (though not necessarily of all party members) gives MacKay 42 per cent support, against just six per cent for Michelle Rempel Garner, four per cent for O'Toole and two per cent for Marilyn Gladu. (Gladu and O'Toole have confirmed they're running; Rempel Garner has not.)
MacKay said he does not expect to receive former leader Stephen Harper's endorsement, even though he and Harper were instrumental in the merger of the Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance parties that created the modern Conservative Party in 2003.
"We've had a couple of brief conversations and I spoke to him in anticipation of my decision, and so he has encouraged me to do it. He's been supportive. I don't expect he will be actively involved in anyone's campaign," MacKay said.
Mackay spent time in Montreal this weekend doing media interviews in French and meeting organizers and business leaders. He said he's getting good reviews for his French skills so far, even though he is being lambasted in Quebec media for not being bilingual.
"So my ability to communicate in both official languages — they can mock, but the reality is it's there, it's improving, it will continue to improve," he said.
"I've been away from politics and public life for over four years and haven't had the necessity to use French to the degree that I did when I was a member of Parliament. So I'm confident in my ability to bring it back to an acceptable level."