Conservative leadership hopefuls held a tamer but occasionally circus-sounding debate that covered topics from abortion to their favourite music, with the format and moderator criticized for stifling candidates’ answers.
It was the first time all six leadership contenders — Scott Aitchison, Roman Baber, Patrick Brown, Jean Charest, Leslyn Lewis and Pierre Poilievre — faced off in the first of two official debates organized by the Conservative Party of Canada.
Wednesday night’s event was held in Edmonton, Alta., and moderated by former veteran political journalist Tom Clark. Some of the themes tackled by the debate were: the future of the Party, the future of energy, Canada’s North, environment and climate change, cost of living, and law and order.
Despite occasionally testy exchanges namely between Charest, Poilievre and Lewis, the moderator also occasionally stole the show, namely by using a “womp womp” sad trombone sound any time a candidate broke any of his numerous rules or posed personal questions to candidates that had little to nothing to do with current-affairs issues.
Clark also repeatedly warned audience members not to clap in between answers, at one point removing speaking time from Poilievre because his supporters booed Charest early in the exchanges.
Many watching online noted their disdain for the format and moderator.
“This is a tremendously horrible debate format, maybe the worst I’ve ever seen. No one wants to hear these little mini-speeches with the moderator interrupting and lecturing the candidates. I can barely comprehend the topic they’re on before they move on,” wrote Royce Koop, professor and Canadian politics expert at University of Manitoba, on social media close to midway through the debate.
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Early in the debate, Poilievre made a new promise as part of his ongoing feud with the Bank of Canada: that he would replace the current governor Tiff Macklem if elected prime minister. He had so far shied away from that idea.
“The Bank of Canada governor has allowed himself to become the ATM machine of this government. And so, I would replace him with a new governor who would reinstate our low inflation mandate,” Poilievre said.
During a first yes-and-no round of questions that allowed leaders just seconds to respond, all leaders agreed that Canada should not push for a no fly-zone above Ukraine as requested by President Volodymyr Zelensky.
They also all mostly agreed their government would meet Canada’s pledge of upping defence spending to meet NATO’s 2 per cent requirement. Only Poilievre promised to “work towards that goal.”
But their opinions diverged when asked if they believed in Canada’s supply management system. Baber, Aitchison said no, whereas Charest, Brown, Poilievre and Lewis said yes.
Then on the issue of abortion, Charest, Aitchison, Brown, Baber and Poilievre all said they were pro-choice. On the other hand, Lewis said she was “pro-life.”
When asked which is the single biggest threat to Canada today, Brown and Poilievre seemed to agree that it was the nation’s finances. Lewis and Baber talked about the erosion of democracy, while Aitchison mentioned the divisive rhetoric he has been denouncing since the start of the race. Charest said national unity was Canada’s biggest challenge.
Later, the moderator diverged from policy issues to pose candidates a series of personal questions which seemingly caught the candidates by surprise, such as what book they are currently reading, their favourite music or what show they had last binge-watched.
“I know it was a weird little journey to go on, but I think it was interesting,” Clark said at the end of the segment.
The debate became testier during the face-off round in which candidates could choose who they would debate on a set topic. Other candidates could also butt in up to five times by raising a prop paddle.
Poilievre took advantage of a first question on what he considered to be an unlawful protest in light of the Freedom Convoy protests to attack the moderator and his question.
“I don’t know why that doesn’t seem to be a trouble to you or the rest of the national media, because you’re more concerned about truckers who lost their jobs because of an unfair vaccine mandate imposed on them by Prime Minister, who was targeting them without any scientific basis, that you were about holding accountable people who’ve actually done violence,” he said.
The first real shots were fired in the second hour of the debate, starting when all candidates took group shots at Poilievre for his support for cryptocurrencies and his statement that he’d allow Canadians to “opt out of inflation” via digital currencies.
“The last thing we should be doing is encouraging our parents and grandparents, along with vulnerable families, to gamble their savings, their retirements in something this risky,” mentioned Brown, who accused Poilievre of “watching late night YouTube videos” and pushing “magic Internet money”.