Poilievre will not participate in a third debate, and Lewis doubts his relevance
OTTAWA — The Conservative Party of Canada’s organization of a third official leadership debate in August could be in jeopardy, with one candidate refusing to attend and another wondering if the exercise is really necessary.
The team of Pierre Poilievre, candidate in the race for the leadership of the federal conservatives, indicated Thursday that he will not take part in the third debate which the party plans to organize next month.
Jenni Byrne, a senior member of her team, released a statement on Twitter on Thursday afternoon after the party announced it would hold a third official debate in early August.
Under the party’s bylaws, contestants in the leadership race are required to participate in « official debates, » or face a $50,000 fine.
The candidates have already taken part in two official debates in May, one in English in Edmonton and the other in French in Laval. The campaign teams had however been informed by party authorities that there could be a third official debate at the beginning of August.
Ms. Byrne explains that candidate Poilievre has already taken part in the first two official debates, in addition to another organized in Ottawa by the “Canada Strong and Free Network” – an organization that promotes the conservative movement in the country.
The Poilievre team also castigates the party’s English-language debate in Edmonton in May, calling it an « embarrassment » because it featured sound effects and questions about the candidates’ tastes in music and television.
“It’s not the campaign’s fault that the party’s debate in Edmonton was widely recognized as an embarrassment. (…) The candidates were given ping-pong rackets to hold when they wanted to speak. It was more of a game show than a debate,” the statement read.
“And this happened despite strong caveats to the party about both the moderator and the format – all of which were ignored.”
The debate was moderated by former political journalist Tom Clark, whom Poilievre’s campaign called « an elite Laurentian liberal media personality. »
A request for Mr. Clark to comment on the Poillievre campaign exit went unanswered.
Party spokesman Yaroslav Baran said he was aware ‘there are several points of view on the debates held so far’, and pointed out that the rules of the race state that participation is compulsory. .
The Poilievre campaign statement also says the party’s planning for a third debate comes suddenly as the team works to « get the vote out » of activists.
“Pierre (Poilievre) will be on the road again, uninterrupted, to help make this happen,” Ms Byrne wrote.
Earlier this month, Mr. Poilievre had not taken part in an “unofficial” debate organized in Alberta when candidates were all in Calgary for the Stampede.
The statement goes on to attack fellow leadership candidate Jean Charest’s repeated calls for a third debate, arguing that the former Quebec premier was failing to attract the same crowds as Mr. Poilievre during the phase of the race where candidates sold memberships to supporters.
« That’s why he wants another debate — to use Pierre’s (Poilievre) popularity with the members to bring out an audience that he can’t get on his own. »
In response, Mr. Charest’s campaign accused Mr. Poilievre of preferring « to publish ‘internship’ videos rather than answer questions in real time, in real life ».
« Mr. Charest has NEVER been shy about answering tough questions,” reads the statement, which adds that he felt the format of the French-language debate held in Laval was constructive.
Leslyn Lewis doubts the relevance of another debate
Leslyn Lewis, a Social Conservative MP from Ontario who is also in the running, released her own statement saying party members were fortunate to see leadership candidates present their visions for the country at the two previous debates, which can still be viewed online.
She also pointed out that now is an important step in the race for the contestants to meet the members and said 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,” Ms. Lewis said.
“Issues facing rural Canadians were not represented in the debates held,” she added.
As to whether she plans to participate in a third debate, her campaign says she is in discussions with the party.
In addition to Mr. Charest, candidates Scott Aitchison and Roman Baber had also expressed their support for holding another debate.
Mr Poilievre’s decision not to take part in the event means there would be not one, but two fewer contestants on stage, given the recent disqualification of Patrick Brown following an allegation that which he allegedly violated federal election laws. Mr Brown has denied any wrongdoing.
A request from activists
Members of the Leader’s Choice Organizing Committee met Wednesday night and decided to hold a third formal debate, after a survey of members.
Spokesman Yaroslav Baran said 24,000 members responded « overwhelmingly » in favor of a third debate.
This debate would take place while the postal ballot is already underway and the party has begun to receive ballots filled out by members in good standing.
The results of the leadership race will be announced in Ottawa on September 10.