Peter MacKay still owes nearly $300k for failed 2020 Tory leadership run

·2 min read
Peter MacKay speaks to supporters during the official launch of his campaign for leader of the Conservative Party of Canada in Stellarton, N.S. on Saturday, January 25, 2020. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press - image credit)
Peter MacKay speaks to supporters during the official launch of his campaign for leader of the Conservative Party of Canada in Stellarton, N.S. on Saturday, January 25, 2020. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press - image credit)

Former Conservative leadership candidate Peter MacKay has whittled down what was once a seven-figure debt — racked up during the 2020 leadership contest — to "less than $285,000," his financial team says.

MacKay, who placed second to eventual winner Erin O'Toole in the race, previously said he accumulated roughly $1 million in debt during his campaign.

He's been hosting a series of fundraising events since losing the race. He's holding one tonight in Toronto; ticket prices start at $500.

"Each week thousands of dollars are donated by Mr. MacKay's supporters to help close out the campaign's finances," wrote Tian White, MacKay's financial agent for the 2020 leadership campaign, in an email to CBC News.

"Based on the continuing generosity of Mr. MacKay's supporters, we anticipate the remaining amounts payable to be retired in the coming months."

The fundraising campaign has raised more than $1.5 million so far, White said.

Elections Canada rules prohibit former candidates from paying off their own campaign debts — a rule that has forced MacKay to seek contributions to pay for a campaign that ended nearly two years ago.

The 2020 Conservative leadership race was the first to require a $300,000 entry fee. That fee has been maintained for the current contest.

"This debt load is a major consideration for all participants," White wrote in response to a question about how MacKay's debt might be influencing the current race.

Former PMs, Condoleeza Rice supporting fundraising

MacKay's work to repay the debt has been supported by former prime ministers Brian Mulroney and Stephen Harper, who have both hosted virtual events and sent letters on behalf of the fundraising campaign, White said.

Former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, who was MacKay's U.S. counterpart when he served as foreign affairs minister from 2006 to 2007, is scheduled to speak at an upcoming fundraising event.

Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press
Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press

MacKay's camp points to a few key factors in the enormous debt he accumulated during the campaign.

Security costs, White said, "were an unexpected expense" during the race after threats emerged against MacKay's family that were deemed credible by police and cyber experts.

MacKay's wife, Nazanin Afshin-Jam, is a human rights activist who has been an outspoken critic of Iran, where she was born.

MacKay's financial team also said the suspension of the campaign in March 2020 during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the campaign and later made it difficult to host in-person events.

Elections Canada requires candidates to pay off debts within three years, meaning MacKay still has until August 2023 to clear the debt.

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