Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday August 4, 2022
Charest, Baber and Aitchison keep it courteous in final Conservative leadership debate
Three of the five candidates vying to become the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada took part in the race’s final debate Wednesday evening in Ottawa in what proved to be a courteous, sparks-free affair — aside from the barbs aimed at those not in attendance.
The bilingual event, with the first half taking part in English, came just over one month from when the party will select its third permanent leader in five years on Sept. 10.
Jean Charest, the former Quebec premier and one of only three candidates who took part in the debate, chided the presumed frontrunner, MP Pierre Poilievre, and another candidate, MP Leslyn Lewis, for not participating.
Charest likened the decision to “a fish that says it doesn’t want to swim in the ocean” and thanked Conservative MP Scott Aitchison and former Ontario MPP Roman Baber for showing up on Wednesday.
“I’ve accepted every invitation for debates and for panels,” Charest said. “This is fundamental to our responsibility to the party.”
Poilievre, speaking from a meet-and-greet with voters in Regina, shot back.
“Instead of being here with all of you in Saskatchewan, I could have been cooped up in a little hotel room around a small table listening to a defeated Liberal premier drone on about his latest carbon tax idea,” Poilievre said.
The party confirmed Wednesday it has already received roughly 150,000 ballots from a voter list with more than 670,000 names. The number of party members is more than double the size it was when Erin O’Toole was chosen to lead the Conservatives in 2020.
Poilievre and Lewis hosted meet-and-greets with supporters at the same time as Wednesday’s debate, in Regina and Cornwall, P.E.I., respectively.
Poilievre’s team previously signalled he would not take part in the debate because they felt the first debate back in May was “an embarrassment” and he wants instead to shore up voter support.
Lewis previously said she had received no information about the debate format and that she had told the party she would not be available on the date set for the event.
Lewis spoke at her Wednesday night event about the need for a federal parental rights bill.
Under party rules, candidates must attend official party debates or face a $50,000 fine.
The party’s Leadership Election Organizing Committee said it decided to hold a third debate after finding that a majority of surveyed members supported the move. (CBC)