Some have linked his possible resignation to a possible future leadership bid for the Conservative Party of Canada.
Earlier this year it was widely reported that MacKay was interested in the post of Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Despite the long-held tradition of selecting a European to the post to balance out the American-held position of top military commander of NATO, many Canadian news sources regularly reported on MacKay's intentions and his behind-the-scenes lobbying efforts to win the position.
Many foreign affairs observers wondered why MacKay, a potential successor for the Conservative Party, would be interested in the job, since it holds little prestige and does has little precedence of raising the domestic profile of its office holders. The post eventually went to Dutch Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
In some political circles it has been quietly suggested that MacKay may be looking for a way out of the Conservative Party, an 'honourable exit'. Speculation includes MacKay anticipating a collapse in the Conservative vote in the next election, losing Government, and having no desire to be there when it happens. Leaving for a position in NATO, for example, would allow him to escape the possible mess of a Conservative Party reeling after its loss of power and of its strong and tight-fisted leader.
Earlier this year, The Hill Times reported on a possible schism in the Conservative Party between former Progressive Conservative members and Reform/Alliance members, one which may be exacerbated should Harper step down or lose his leadership of the party. Gerry Nicholls, former vice-president of the National Citizens Coalition of which Harper was once leader, told the publication that “there is definitely a schism in the party between the old Progressive Conservative wing and the Canadian Alliance/Reform wing. The day Stephen Harper steps down as leader, you’re going to see that become a real issue because I don’t see anybody as a possible successor to Stephen, who could appeal to both wings."
A Conservative source noted that there are many divisions in the Conservative Party based on allegiances around potential successors to the party’s leadership. MacKay’s followers are avid and incredibly loyal. Indeed, when the party’s fundamentals have creak, such as when the budget was released this year and when Finance Minister Jim Flaherty gave his fiscal update last fall, the leadership chatter and political manoeuvring in the background escalates.Websites promoting John Baird, Jim Prentice and Peter MacKay sprung up, only to be taken down when the ship appeared to right itself. While there is no clear successor to Harper, those sites and their backers are sure to emerge at any indication of troubled waters.
Giving the story of MacKay's possible departure from Government more credence are whispers that following the current provincial election in Nova Scotia, MacKay may be interested in overtaking the leadership of the provincial Tories. The leadership of the party would allow the 43-year old MacKay to build his resume and perch himself in an advantageous position for a possible future run at the Conservative leadership, all the while avoiding culpability for the potential electoral collapse of his party and staying clean through the mud-slinging in the wake of Harper's departure.
While the story is still raw and no official statements are likely to emerge in the short-term, it should make for interesting weeks and months ahead. If MacKay steps down, many Canadians will know why.