On Wednesday evening in Ottawa, three of the five candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada took part in the third and final official debate of the 2022 race.
Candidates Scott Aitchison, Roman Baber and Jean Charest reflected on some of the key campaign issues.
The half-English, half-French debate saw the trio discuss leadership, Indigenous issues, transportation, climate change, affordability, rural affairs and health.
Candidates Pierre Poilievre and Leslyn Lewis opted to skip the debate, spending the night with supporters instead, risking a $50,000 penalty as a result.
Here are the main takeaways from tonight’s discussion.
THREE CANDIDATES, ONE BIG BLUE TABLE
The decision to hold a third debate in the 2022 race was made months after the official English debate on May 11 in Edmonton, Alberta, and the French debate in Laval, Quebec. May 25. The format of the third debate was very different from previous events, resulting more in a panel discussion than a heated confrontation.
The possibility of a third showdown was left open by the party when it announced initial debates, but the decision to go ahead with a third, with only weeks before all ballots must be submitted, was strongly opposed by Poilievre and Lewis, who ultimately decided not to attend.
As a result, the party changed its plans and the event became a more streamlined affair.
Instead of standing behind podiums in a room with a large audience, as they have done in the other official debates, the three men and the moderator all sat in a cramped studio in an industrial park 12 kilometers away. from Parliament Hill.
The candidates and Conservative Party Chairman Rob Batherson – who acted as the evening’s moderator – all sat on low stools around one side of a round dining room-sized table, adorned with a conservative blue tablecloth.
According to the pool reporter inside the room, before the debate began, a candidate knocked over a light trying to get to the table, and Charest remarked that the setup was “weird”, saying that he had “never seen anything like it”.
TRUDEAU IS TALKED A LOT
Prior to the debate, the absent candidates – Lewis and Poilievre – were expected to be key talking points throughout the evening, but the name on everyone’s lips for the candidates was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
While there were a few knocks aimed at those who did not participate, with Charest saying candidates should be accountable to party members and answer their questions, those at the table seemed less focused on their opponents and more on using the night to get started. , as the party had hoped, as the best alternative to the current Liberal government.
“There is nothing being done. And yet we pay taxes for all of this, and you would think they would act together,” Charest said of Trudeau. “And there is an urgent need for a change of government, Canadians want change, and they are looking to us as Conservatives as an alternative. And that’s what this race is all about, providing an alternative.
“Our response to Justin Trudeau’s divisive politics cannot be more divisive,” Aitchison offered. “We must lead with respect. We must deliver real solutions to the challenges Canadians face every day and produce a government that actually delivers results. We cannot be the party that rails against the government when we must be the party that delivers better government that truly respects taxpayers’ money and gets results, and we must unite as Conservatives.
While taking turns presenting their policy ideas, the candidates also touched on what they see as a number of Liberal failures, from not ending all drinking water advisories in First Nations communities , current travel issues facing Canadians at airports and at passport and immigration offices. desks.
GREAT EMPHASIS ON PARTY UNITY
Another major theme of the evening was party unity. After months of candidates clashing, attacking each other over their policies, backgrounds and views on events such as the convoy protests, the three participants strove to stress the need for the party to unify once a winner is named next month.
Baber said he never wanted to win an election again, suggesting the country’s future hangs in the balance.
“I want you to imagine a scenario: It’s the day after the election, and you wake up and Justin Trudeau is re-elected prime minister, or even worse, Chrystia Freeland is prime minister now,” Baber said. Well, we’re counting on each other to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“And that means we have to stick together for the good of our nation,” he added. “We all need to take a step back, take a deep breath. every leadership contestant in this race. »
On Wednesday evening, the candidates had to consider whether they would stay with the party if they did not win the leadership; Aitchison and Baber indicated they plan to continue supporting the Conservative Party regardless, while Charest dodged the question, telling reporters in a post-debate melee that his goal remains to become the next leader.
Batherson ended the evening by calling on party members to vote. He said the Conservative Party had set records with its membership numbers and that every member should exercise their right to vote.