Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday June 23, 2020

Tory Leadership Debates Spotlights Bad French, Social Conservative Issues

The contenders for the federal Conservative leadership traded fewer pointed barbs during the English-language debate in Toronto on Thursday, appealing for more party unity to defeat Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government.

After the presumed front-runners, Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole, had several heated exchanges during a bumpy debate in French the night earlier, neither showed the same chippiness on stage Thursday, making only the odd jab.

The two-hour debate also gave the social conservatives in the race, Ontario MP Derek Sloan and Toronto lawyer Leslyn Lewis, plenty of runway to share their perspectives. (I(n the French debate, Ontario MP Derek Sloan and Toronto lawyer Leslyn Lewis were left to watch on the sidelines, especially during the open debate format. Both were hampered by their inability to speak French. MacKay and O’Toole’s abilities are passable but would likely be deemed inadmissible if they were debating in English.)

The candidates criticized the Trudeau government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis and its unsuccessful bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council — something both MacKay and O’Toole called a “vanity project” for the prime minister.

But they were also asked to weigh in on another issue that is top of mind for many Canadians: systemic racism.

Here are some of the highlights from the last official debate of the race, which will wrap up in August.

Although MacKay repeatedly challenged O’Toole during Wednesday’s French debate to state whether he is pro-choice or anti-abortion — a throwback to the pressure outgoing Tory Leader Andrew Scheer faced during the fall election campaign — there were no such fireworks Thursday.

Likewise, the two men did not debate each other’s record on LGBTQ issues, including support for same-sex marriage and transgender rights.

At one point, Sloan said MacKay and O’Toole would agree with him that it’s “not right Canada doesn’t have any laws when it comes to abortion.” Sloan asserted that Canada’s position is “out of whack with most of the developed world.” Neither man responded to that charge.

Although MacKay and O’Toole have said they oppose conversion therapy, neither objected when Sloan said the Liberals are “radically far to the left” for seeking to ban the practice.

Sloan, who has accused the Liberal government of “effectively putting into law child abuse” with its proposed legislation to ban conversion therapy, said he would repeal such a law as prime minister. Both he and Lewis have also pledged to repeal the transgender rights law enacted by the Liberals in 2016. That law added new rights protections to prevent discrimination based on a person’s gender identity or expression.

MacKay and O’Toole may have had strategic imperatives for not challenging Sloan or Lewis on social issues. The next leader of the Conservatives will be chosen according to a ranked ballot, where members list candidates by order of preference. The support of the last place candidate in each round will be redistributed to the second choices of their supporters.

In the 2017 Tory leadership race, support from social conservatives was seen as crucial in helping Scheer best front-runner Maxime Bernier.

Derek Sloan predicted Donald Trump will be re-elected for a second term: “Under this next government, which will be a Conservative government, I know our relationship with the United States will be restored. And I’ll go so far as to say, I am confident that Donald Trump will defy the odds again and be the next administration and when I am leader of the Conservative party, I will give him a call and congratulate him.” (Huffington Post) https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/conservative-leadership-debate-highlights_ca_5eec3844c5b68572ddfcf454

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