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MacKay won't run to lead merged party

The Tory leader said his frank assessment is that it is not his time.
BRUCE CHEADLE, CP   2004-01-14 03:49:35  

OTTAWA -- Tory leader Peter MacKay, a lightning rod for critics of the new Conservative Party of Canada, has stepped out of the storm by announcing he won't run for the leadership of the party he helped create. The move takes some of the thunder out of a leadership race that is losing more candidates than it's gaining.

"Timing is everything in life and in politics in particular," MacKay, 38, told a news conference yesterday.

"The achievements of the past several months have been significant, but I also recognize they have come at some cost. My frank assessment is that this is not my time."

MacKay, who a year ago this Friday began his pursuit of the Progressive Conservative party leadership by announcing "I am not the merger candidate," won the Tory helm in May after signing a deal promising no merger with the Canadian Alliance.

He then quickly opened negotiations with the Alliance and a merger deal was announced in mid-October and ratified last month.

MacKay, who plans to run in the next election, acknowledged the year has taken its toll.

Widespread consultation with past and present supporters -- including an assessment of his ability to raise the cash for another leadership run -- led him to a decision that was more head than heart, said MacKay.

"I did a lot of soul-searching. I even went to church last Sunday -- and believe me, I still have a soul," he joked. "Some of you may think otherwise."

Stephen Harper, the former Alliance leader and fellow merger negotiator, is the only candidate in the race, which culminates March 19-21.

Harper launched his campaign Monday as another candidate, Calgary lawyer Jim Prentice, pulled out, citing lack of money.

Former Ontario health minister Tony Clement, auto parts magnate Belinda Stronach and B.C. MP Chuck Strahl are also considering leadership runs.

Clement will make an announcement tomorrow morning in Ottawa, while Stronach won't reveal her plans until next week, said an organizer in her growing leadership camp.

Several high-profile possibilities, including New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord and former Ontario premier Mike Harris, have already taken themselves out of the leadership sweeps.

The new party got more bad news yesterday when Quebec Tory MP Andre Bachand announced he will quit politics rather than run for the new entity.

"This party is going in the wrong direction to be a government," Bachand said.

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