Pierre Poilievre was twice referred to as “Mr. Poliver”

After the unofficial Conservative leadership debate last week devolved into an anarchic round of personal attacks egged on by a rowdy audience, the Conservative Party apparently agreed to do the exact opposite for its first official debate. The crowd at the Wednesday night event was endlessly chided for clapping. Debate protocol was carefully engineered to avoid interpersonal conflict. And in the opening statements, if candidates levelled so much as an oblique personal attack at anyone living or dead, they were literally cut off with a sad trombone noise.


The National Post watched it so you didn’t have to, and here’s the most entertaining summary we could concoct:

First, the concord. There were roughly three issues on which all six candidates agreed:

  • Oil and gas development (and pipelines) is good
  • Canada’s historically high rate of immigration (roughly 400,000 new Canadians per year) is good.
  • Boosting defence spending to two per cent of GDP is good

All the candidates who weren’t Pierre Poilievre were also united in trashing Poilievre’s public support for buying cryptocurrencies (which have been utterly hemorrhaging value in recent weeks). Said Charest, “on Bitcoin, everyone just finds it totally bizarre what Poilievre is suggesting.”

When asked about abortion, Lewis was the only candidate who didn’t get oddly quiet before immediately promising not to touch the issue if they won government. “I will always defend a woman’s right to her personal reproductive health choices,” went a typical answer from Atchison. Lewis, who also happened to be the only woman on stage, said she was “pro-life.” When Charest tried to imply that Poilievre had a secret anti-abortion agenda, Poilievre responded that Charest was the only candidate on the stage who had actually cast a House of Commons vote to criminalize abortion (which is sort of true, actually; while in the government of Brian Mulroney Charest voted for legislation that would have criminalized elective abortion).

The “walk-on” music that opened the debate was Walking on Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves. The song is about the overwhelming euphoria that accompanies the feeling of falling in love.


We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

On the question of whether they would implement all 95 “calls to action” from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, just Charest and Poilievre (the race’s two frontrunners) were non-committal. “You can’t commit to all of them,” said Charest. But that’s literally true in their case, as not all of the calls to action are directed against the federal government. Some are directed at universities, law schools, coroners, churches and even the Canadian Olympic Committee. However, Poilievre’s plan to defund the CBC obviously runs up against call to action number 84, which calls on the government to “increase funding.”

If we can pick on moderator Tom Clark for a second: He claimed that there are “no laws at all” regarding abortion in the U.S. (which is extremely wrong; there are hundreds of state-level laws). In one segment he completely forgot to include Lewis and Brown in an all-candidate’s question. And for a painfully long period at the debate’s outset, he appeared unable to turn off his portable microphone, thus filling the auditorium with the sustained sound of audio feedback.


Supply management neatly embodies virtually every single policy point that Conservatives usually claim to hate (economic central planning, anti-free trade, introduced by Pierre Trudeau, etc.). And yet, it’s the rare Conservative who ever condemns the thing. Wednesday was a bit of an exception with both Baber and Aitchison coming out against supply management. And while Lewis supported it, she nevertheless acknowledged that it didn’t quite square with all her other policy preferences. “Supply management is of course not a free market ideology, but we have to ensure that we support our farmers,” she said.

Pic unrelated.
Pic unrelated. Photo by The Canadian Press/Fred Chartrand

The debate featured no less than three references by Poilievre to his campaign’s goal of fighting for the “32-year-old living in their parents’ basement.” This 32-year-old, whom Poilievre mentions virtually every time he gets in front of a microphone, is his go-to archetype for the Canadians victimized by unaffordable real estate.


Most of the candidates approached the stage alone, but guess which two conspicuously held on to their spouse’s hand until the last possible moment? It was Brown and Poilievre.

A particularly questionable debate rule was that if the crowd cheered or booed, their perceived candidate would be penalized by getting their time docked. The rule was invoked only once: After Charest was booed for a slam against Poilievre, 10 seconds was removed from Poilievre’s time. “That’s nonsense,” Poilievre could be heard to mutter.

Another questionable format choice was a general debate at the end wherein candidates received only five chances to interject, after which they were forced to stand in silence as the other candidates assailed them with insults without risk of rebuttal. Poilievre was also the most conspicuous victim of this system: His silent time saw Charest accuse him of making Canada look like a “third world country” by criticizing the Bank of Canada. Then, Brown obliquely accused Poilievre of throwing “derogatory” remarks at Indigenous Canadians.


They also forced them to use these damned paddles.
They also forced them to use these damned paddles. Photo by Greg Southam/Postmedia

Aitchison was the funniest candidate, although that title is admittedly quite easy to attain among the current crop of contenders. He got a few laughs with an ongoing bit about which of the other candidates he would add to his cabinet (Charest to Environment, Poilievre to Natural Resources). And after answering a question about what book he was reading (a book named Water), he got some chuckles by lightly mocking the moderator with “would you like to know what it’s about?”

Lewis had a bit of trouble with Poilievre’s name (it’s POI-lee-EV-vrah, for those wondering). Twice she referred to him as “Mr. Poliver,” but seemed to have a handle on the correct pronunciation by debate’s end.

One of the all-time weirdest aspects of the debate was that it featured an odd Dating Game-style segment where the candidates were asked some light personal questions. So, we end with this exhaustive summary of their responses:



Charest: A book “about Russia.” (He forgot which one)
Aitchison: Water (there’s actually quite a lot of books with that title, so we’re presuming it’s this one).
Lewis: Shackleton’s Way (a book about leaderships lessons from Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton)
Baber: David and Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell
Poilievre: 12 Rules for Life, by Jordan Peterson
Brown: He has “no time to read,” but he likes books by Horatio Alger and John Grisham

One of the top-selling non-fiction books by a Canadian other than Jordan Peterson.
One of the top-selling non-fiction books by a Canadian other than Jordan Peterson. Photo by Amazon


Charest: Thomas D’Arcy McGee (Father of Confederation who remains one of the very few Canadians to die by political assassination)
Aitchison: John Diefenbaker
Lewis: William Wilberforce (English politician who led the successful movement to abolish slavery throughout the British Empire)
Baber: Margaret Thatcher
Poilievre: Wilfrid Laurier (a Liberal prime minister, incidentally, but Poilievre liked how he “opened up the West” and was a Catholic who respected Protestants)
Brown: Ontario Premier Bill Davis (who happened to be a neighbour when Brown was growing up)


Bill Davis with his wife Kathleen in 1984.
Bill Davis with his wife Kathleen in 1984. Photo by The Canadian Press/Bill Becker


Charest: National unity (and the loss thereof)
Aitchison: Political division
Lewis: Declining democracy
Baber: The erosion of democracy
Poilievre: Rising rates of public and private debt
Brown: “Financial chaos,” specifically federal debt


Charest: Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny
Aitchison: Oscar Peterson (he reminded the audience he plays piano. Also, country music (the debate was in Edmonton).
Lewis: Jazz. When pressed for more details, she said “Coltrane”.
Baber: Amy Winehouse, the heavily tattooed English singer-songwriter with a penchant for punching fans, who died of alcohol poisoning in 2011. “When I hear Amy Winehouse I can see into her soul,” said Baber. What’s more, Baber had the least hesitation of any candidate in announcing his choice.
Poilievre: Calgary-born country music artist Paul Brandt (specifically, his song Alberta Bound)
Brown: Brampton-born singer-songwriter Alessia Cara (Brown is the mayor of Brampton)


Alessia Cara
Alessia Cara Photo by SUPPLIED


Charest: Appelez mon agent (a French comedy-drama surrounding a Paris talent agency)
Aitchison: Brooklyn 99
Lewis: Bridgerton. She praised it for depicting an era in which people “did not see race” (although the show, and the race-blind version of Regency era England it depicts, are fictional)
Baber: Married … with Children (he says he used the show to learn English after immigrating to Canada from the Soviet Union)
Poilievre: Trotsky (a Russian miniseries licensed by Netflix which Poilievre said helped to remind him of the ”diabolical evil” of totalitarian socialism)
Brown: Ozark

A screenshot from Bridgerton. None of this happened.
A screenshot from Bridgerton. None of this happened. Photo by Liam Daniel/Netflix


Charest: John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier (the main Anglophone and Francophone figures in Confederation, respectively)
Aitchison: Nelson Mandela
Lewis: Nelson Mandela
Baber: Ronald Reagan
Poilievre: Abraham Lincoln
Brown: John A. Macdonald (he said he doesn’t like the “cancel culture” tearing Macdonald’s statues down)


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