Poilievre to skip 3rd Conservative leadership debate as voting continues

·3 min read
Candidates Pierre Poilievre, left, and  Jean Charest  leave the stage after after the French language Conservative Leadership debate in May in Laval, Que. (Ryan Remioz/Canadian Press - image credit)
Candidates Pierre Poilievre, left, and Jean Charest leave the stage after after the French language Conservative Leadership debate in May in Laval, Que. (Ryan Remioz/Canadian Press - image credit)

The Conservative Party of Canada has announced that it will hold a third leadership debate for the candidates looking to succeed Erin O'Toole as the party's official leader — although presumed frontrunner Pierre Poilievre is not expected to attend.

The Party's Leadership Election Organizing Committee (LEOC) said it decided to hold a third debate after surveying 24,000 members and finding that 65 per cent supported the move.

The announcement was welcomed by former Quebec premier and leadership candidate Jean Charest, who called for a third debate in a social media post Wednesday afternoon.

Along with Charest, candidates Scott Aitchison and Roman Baber have expressed support for a third debate.

Poilievre's team says no

But the campaign team representing Poilievre, the Ottawa-area MP considered the favourite to win the race, said shortly after the debate's announcement that he will not break his schedule to attend the event.

The Poilievre campaign suggested that the party's leadership is holding a third debate to make up for the first English-language debate held in May, which was notable for an unorthodox format that included the use of props and sound effects.

"It was not the campaign's fault that the party's Edmonton debate was widely recognized as an embarrassment," Poilievre's team said in a media statement released Thursday afternoon.

The campaign said that, instead of preparing for and attending a third debate, Poilievre will focus on ensuring registered party members submit their votes.

"Pierre will be on the road again, without interruption, to help make that happen," the campaign said.

Charest's campaign team said Poilievre's decision to skip the debate amounts to an act of "disrespect" and a "humiliation" for the party and the members who voted for the additional debate.

In a statement posted on Twitter, candidate Leslyn Lewis questioned the value of a third debate. She did not state clearly whether she plans to attend.

"I am not convinced that a high-level debate will cover new ground, or be watched by many members," the MP wrote.

WATCH | Conservatives propose additional leadership debate:

Poilievre and Lewis could be disciplined by the party if they do not attend the debate.

LEOC rules state that candidates "must personally participate in all party sanctioned debates."

The rules say that failing to attend would result in an automatic $50,000 penalty (or some other fine amount deemed "appropriate in the circumstances") which would be drawn from the deposit required of all candidates.

Candidates were warned of possible 3rd debate

Members saw candidates perform in two party-sanctioned debates in May. The English-language debate took place in Edmonton, followed by a French-language debate in Laval, Que.

The party told campaigns they could expect candidates to be called back for a possible third debate in early August.

Charest's outreach and call for another debate comes as party members have begun voting for their next leader, and the party has started validating the ballots that have been returned.

The party is looking at a voter list with more than 670,000 names, which is more than double the size it was when members picked O'Toole to lead the Conservatives in 2020.

The official results from this race will be announced in Ottawa on Sept. 10.

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