Poilievre skips third Conservative leadership debate


The Conservative Party of Canada’s plan to hold a third leadership debate in August could fall apart, with one candidate refusing to attend and another wondering if it’s really necessary.

The campaign of presumptive frontrunner Pierre Poilievre announced on Thursday that the longtime MP would not participate in the debate, or face a hefty fine.

Jenni Byrne, a senior member of Poilievre’s team, posted a scathing statement on Twitter explaining her decision after the party announced earlier in the day that it would continue the debate in early August.

Conservative party rules state that candidates must participate in official leadership debates or face an « automatic penalty of $50,000 ».

“Participation is compulsory and no substitutions will be allowed,” according to the rules.

Byrne’s statement noted that Poilievre had participated in the first two official debates in May, plus one organized by the Canada Strong and Free Network – an organization that promotes the conservative movement.

He also criticized the English-language debate held in Edmonton in May for featuring sound effects and a series of questions about the candidates’ tastes in music and television.

« It’s not the campaign’s fault that the party debate in Edmonton was widely acknowledged as an embarrassment…candidates were given ping-pong paddles to hold when they wanted to speak. It was more a game show than a debate, » the statement read said.

« And this happened despite strong caveats to the party regarding both the moderator and the format all of which have been ignored. »

The debate was moderated by former political journalist Tom Clark, whom the Poilievre campaign called « an elite Laurentian liberal media personality. »

A request for comment from Clark has yet to be returned.

Party spokesman Yaroslav Baran said he understood « there are multiple views on the debates held to date », and pointed out that the race rules state that attendance is compulsory.

Byrne’s statement says the plan for another debate comes as the Poilievre campaign scrambles to get Tory MPs to vote.

Party members have until early September to return their ballots before the results are released in Ottawa on September 10. Voting is already underway, with most of the more than 670,000 ballots having been mailed to members.

“Pierre will be on the road again, uninterrupted, to help make this happen,” Byrne wrote.

The statement goes on to attack fellow leadership candidate Jean Charest’s repeated calls for a third debate, saying the former Quebec premier could not draw the same size crowd as Poilievre during the phase of the race where candidates were selling memberships to supporters.

« That’s why he wants another debate to use Pierre’s popularity with the members to build an audience he can’t reach on his own. »

In response, Charest’s campaign accused Poilievre of preferring to craft social media posts « than answering questions in real time. »

« Jean was NEVER shy about answering tough questions, » it read, adding that he felt the format of the French-language debate held in Laval, Que., was constructive.

Leslyn Lewis, a Social Conservative MP from Ontario who is also running, released her own statement saying party members were fortunate to see leadership candidates present their visions for the country in both debates. previous ones, which remain online.

She also pointed out that this is a milestone in the race for contestants to meet the members, and says she has a busy schedule of events.

« I have found that the concerns of ordinary Canadians vary significantly from the high-level political questions that are posed to us in formal debates, » Lewis said.

« Issues facing rural Canadians were not represented in the debates held. »

As to whether she plans to participate, her campaign says she is in discussions with the party.

Besides Charest, candidates Scott Aitchison and Roman Baber had also expressed support for another debate.

Poilievre’s decision to skip the event means there will be not one, but two fewer candidates on stage, given the recent disqualification of Patrick Brown following an allegation he violated federal election laws .

Brown denied this charge.

The party’s leadership election organizing committee said it decided on Wednesday evening to continue the debate after questioning members last week. A majority of the 24,000 people who responded expressed support for another debate.

Although officials and campaigns only have a few weeks to plan for the event, campaigns were told earlier in the race that their candidates could be called back for a debate in early August at the party’s discretion.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 21, 2022.


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