CPC leadership candidates play ‘tight game’ in Edmonton debate

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The first of at least two official Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) leadership debates saw candidates play by more rigorous rules than in the past.

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The debate followed a similar event on May 5 in Ottawa hosted by the Canada Strong and Free Network that included five of the candidates — Roman Baber, Jean Charest, Pierre Poilievre, Leslyn Lewis and Scott Aitchison.

Patrick Brown, a sixth candidate who was absent from last week’s debate, joined the lineup Wednesday night at the Edmonton Convention Center in front of an audience of more than 1,000 people.

Following the heated debate the week prior, former Global political correspondent Tom Clark moderated the Edmonton event and warned speakers he would call a “pretty tight game” in accordance with the format, which included rounds for spontaneous “yes” or “no” answers, and the rules, which required debaters to avoid uttering the names of other politicians.

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After a few hiccups, debaters more or less adapted to the tempo until Charest invoked Poilievre’s name following a yes-or-no answer on the question of supporting legislation around abortion.

Much like Poilievre, Charest said he would not introduce or support legislation to change or restrain the rights of women, except the latter identified himself as pro-choice.

“Every candidate in this race needs to tell the women of Canada where they stand, whether they are pro or against,” Charet said, renewing a confrontation with Poilievre who refused to elaborate on his position in the previous debate. “Mr. Poilievre’s answer does not fit that test.”

Charest’s answer garnered boos from the audience, which prompted Clark to deduct 10 seconds of talk time from Poilievre, who called the penalty “nonsense.”

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On the question of whether or not to support the current dairy supply management system, Clark called on Lewis and Baber, who are for and against respectively, to elaborate on their answers.

Lewis said she supported the system, without which US producers would “overrun” the Canadian market.

“I prefer to have a superior product that we’ll pay a little bit more for,” she said, “and if we want to bring down the price, cut the carbon tax.”

Baber, who supported a gradual phasing out of the system, used the increasing cost of living as a premise for opposing the current system.

“Life is becoming unaffordable,” he said. “Why not increase supply. Instead of telling farmers how much milk they can produce, we should encourage the creation of more goods, especially if we’re worried about inflation.”

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Asked about “the right number” of immigrants to bring into Canada in light of about 400,000 landing in the country in 2021, Aitchison, Brown and Poilievre framed the question as a workforce issue and called for more immigration.

Brown said Canada has a skilled labor shortage and it is not meeting the need.

“We need to unleash the Canadian economic potential through immigration,” he added.

Aitchison, while also calling for more, said whether the number of immigrants Canada settles is 400,000 or more, the country needs a targeted approach.

The Conservative Party of Canada has scheduled a French discussion in Laval, Que., on May 25.

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