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MacKay ‘shocked' by Stronach defection

Globe and Mail Update

Deputy Conservative Leader Peter MacKay said Wednesday he was "shocked" by one-time colleague and romantic partner Belinda Stronach's decision to cross the floor but called the move "a very minor setback" for the party.

"You know, I wish her the best, I really do," Mr. MacKay told CBC Newsworld, making his first public comments since news of Ms. Stronach's decision broke.

Speaking outside his father's house in Nova Scotia, Mr. MacKay said his heart is a little worse for wear following this week's surprising developments but also insisted that his commitment to the party remains unshaken.

"I've got a lot of people around me that have been very supportive, you know," he said.

"I came home to heal and think a little bit and today's a new day. My head's clear, my heart's a little banged up, but that will heal."

Asked later by a Canadian Press reporter if his relationship with the auto parts heiress was over, he replied: "I haven't talked to her. That part of this is deeply hurtful and deeply personal. We'll see what happens."

Ms. Stronach's decision to cross the floor of the House of Commons — and take over as Human Resources minister — has sparked strong comments on both sides.

Independent MP David Kilgour, who along with independent Chuck Cadman has the potential to change the outcome of a key confidence vote on the budget on Thursday, said Wednesday he wasn't impressed by the switch.

"And that's one of the factors that I'll be considering," he said.

Although Mr. MacKay admitted he knew Ms. Stronach had been unhappy, he didn't expect her to leave the Conservatives for the Liberals.

He said he first learned of her decision "after midnight on Monday."

On Tuesday morning, Ms. Stronach and Prime Minister Paul Martin announced to a stunned nation that Ms. Stronach would be joining the Liberals.

The announcement came just ahead of a key budget vote which could topple the fragile minority government, although the outcome is now very much up in the air.

Ms. Stronach cited her concern over the Conservatives' decision to align themselves with the Bloc Québécois as a key reason for her switch.

Mr. MacKay told CBC, while he "didn't think much" of Ms. Stronach's timing, he wouldn't be personally critical of her.

"I have a lot of affection for her family, her kids in particular, and so she did what she felt she had to do, and I wish her happiness," he said.

Her departure, however, leaves the outcome of Thursday's vote "still up in the air," he said.

He also wouldn't comment on charges that Ms. Stronach's move was motivated as much by personal ambition as the political climate of the country.

He also disputed accusations that the Conservatives were lining themselves up with the separatist Bloc.

"That's nonsense," he said.

"The problem in Quebec is directly attributed to the actions of the Liberal party who have been corrupt, who have through criminal means tried to buy people and simultaneously reward their own party for political gain."

Although Ms. Stronach was often cited as the face of moderate conservatism — she defied the party line by supporting same-sex marriage as a question of equality — Mr. MacKay said moderate views remain "alive and well" within the party.

"This is just a very minor setback," he said.

Asked where he goes from here, Mr. MacKay said: "Well, back to the garden I guess for a little while and, you know, I've surrounded myself with people that I care about, and then back to Ottawa probably tonight and I'll be there for the vote tomorrow."

Meanwhile, speaking with reporters after her first Liberal caucus meeting, Ms. Stronach defended her decision, again calling the decision to leave the Conservatives "very difficult."

"I had to look in the mirror. I had to do a lot of inner soul searching because I worked very hard to bring the new party together," she said.

"I believe this is a very important time for Canada," she said.

"I could not in my conscience about lining up with the Bloc Québécois when the national interest is at stake and Canada is at stake."

Meanwhile, Mr. Kilgour said Wednesday he was unimpressed by Ms. Stronach's move.

Ms. Stronach's shift to the Liberal ranks bolsters the Liberal and NDP to 151 seats in total and decreases the Tory and Bloc numbers to 152.

The Conservatives have said they will support the budget bill but vote down an NDP ammendment. If the ammendment is defeated, it would trigger the collapse of the Liberal minority government.

There are three independent MPs in the House — Carolyn Parrish, Mr. Cadman and Mr. Kilgour.

Ms. Parrish, a former Liberal, has said she would vote with the Liberals, meaning they would only the vote of either Mr. Cadman, a former Tory, or Mr. Kilgour, a former Liberal, to win a confidence vote.

Mr. Kilgour said Ms. Stronach's move — which gave the rookie MP a cabinet posting with the Liberal government — would factor into his decision.

"Was anybody impressed? Were you impressed?"

"No, I was not impressed — either on what the prime minister did or what Ms. Stronach did," Mr. Kilgour said.

Mr. Kilgour, who recently left the Liberal party to sit as an Independent MP, said he'll also weigh several other factors before he votes on the federal budget Thursday.

With Canadian Press

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