Canada’s Conservative Party leadership candidates Scott Aitchison, Roman Baber, Patrick Brown, Jean Charest, Leslyn Lewis and Pierre Poilievre faced off in the first official party debate Wednesday night in Edmonton, Alta.
From political talk to some jabs, sometimes punctuated by a sad trumpet whistle interrupting the debaters, here are some key moments from the English-language debate.
POILIEVRES CRYPTO POLICY IN QUESTION
While the candidates espouse some positions they appear to be closely associated with, such as ending pandemic mandates and the carbon tax, Wednesday’s debate revealed a major area where other candidates rushed Poilievre: his support and comments on cryptocurrencies.
It started with Poilievre expressing his opposition to the Bank of Canada, which ever created a digital currency. During the debate, he vowed to fire the governor of the Bank of Canada, a position currently held by Tiff Macklem, and pledged to restore the bank’s independence.
As part of his constant focus on the issue, he also recently called the Bank of Canada “financially illiterate.”
In a rebuttal, Lewis drew attention to Poilievre’s comment on Bitcoin, expressed concern about what she felt was questionable advice and criticized his promotion of the decentralized currency, something she described as “a problem” for someone who was a financial critic.
Charest then chimed in, saying what Poilievre is proposing was “completely bizarre,” citing a recent drop in Bitcoin’s value. “Anyone who followed his advice that we saw on YouTube would have lost 20 percent of their income,” Charest said, asking if anyone would want their parents to lose 20 percent of their retirement savings. “This madness, and it doesn’t make any sense at all,” he says.
Brown then joins the conversation, saying he agrees with Charest and Lewis and that “internet magic money fluctuates wildly.”
To defend himself, Poilievre fired back that his position had been mischaracterized.
Brown countered, “No one in this room, and no one in Canada, is going to believe that you didn’t say cryptocurrency would get you out of inflation. …It’s bad advice to give to Canadians, it’s so risky, and you, as a former financial critic, should know that’s not the advice you should be giving to the country.”
The night begins with a question about Ukraine
After a brief discussion by Conservatives in Ottawa following Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s surprise visit to Ukraine, the first question of the evening focused on the ongoing war in Ukraine and whether rivals support a no-fly zone over the region to deter Russian-backed airstrikes . Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has long called for this, but Canada has resisted.
Lewis argued that the attacks on Ukraine “should be taken seriously” but that Canada must not exacerbate existing tensions.
Baber touched on his Ukrainian roots and said he was “heartbroken” over what is happening. He said “greater” efforts must be made to end the conflict but the only way out is an agreed ceasefire.
Charest argued that Canada should only advocate a no-fly zone if NATO allies do so. He said the government should send more deadly weapons and humanitarian aid, and bring more displaced Ukrainians to Canada.
Aitchison said he disagreed with the invocation of a no-fly zone, but noted Canada had fallen short of the NATO-recommended defense spending target of 2 percent of gross domestic product.
Brown said Canada should push for a no-fly zone to show on the world stage that NATO means business and stands firm against its allies.
Poilievre said he disagreed with the proposal but said Canada should supply Ukraine with more deadly weapons and provide refuge for the refugees. He said the government must also “unleash” Canadian energy production to help break Europe’s dependence on Russian oil.
ASKED ABOUT ABORTION LAWS
While all contenders have spoken out publicly following last week’s US Supreme Court leak and a reversal of the landmark Roe v. Wade and where they stand on abortion rights, candidates had an opportunity to explain their views on Thursday.
When asked “Would you support abortion legislation,” Charest said he was pro-choice and a government he led would not introduce or support legislation to change or restrict women’s rights.
Aitchison said he will “always” defend a woman’s right to make her personal reproductive health decisions, “period.”
Brown said he was pro-choice and supported a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion, and a government he led would not revisit the issue.
Poilievre said a government under his leadership would not introduce or pass laws restricting abortion.
Lewis said she was pro-life and that Conservatives needed to have more conversations about what they “believe”.
Baber said he doesn’t think government should play a role in how people start and grow their families.
INSIGHT INTO THE CANDIDATES’ MUSIC AND TELEVISION TASTE
The debate also took a pop culture turn when moderator Tom Clark suggested that many Canadians may still not know much about the candidates, prompting them to stray from discussing politics and instead taking a peek at the entertainment rotation of the candidate received.
In addition to chatting about what books each candidate reads and who their political hero is – names like David and Goliath, Jordan Peterson, Sir Wilfred Laurier and Margaret Thatcher were mentioned in these sections – the Conservatives chatted about their music and TV preferences.
Aitchison said that as a pianist he enjoys listening to Oscar Peterson but has dabbled in country music along the way. And the last thing he watched was Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Baber said he could “see inside” Amy Winehouse’s soul and last saw “Married with Children.”
Brown has been listening to Brampton’s own Alessia Cara and is in trouble with his wife for being behind on “Ozark.”
Charest has dubbed French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour and said he likes the show Call My Agent.
Lewis is a jazz fan and cites John Coltrane as his favorite. She is also one of the many who watched “Bridgerton”.
And Poilievre said he likes “Alberta Bound” singer Paul Brandt and found the Netflix series on Trotsky interesting because he said it helped him “to better understand the fiendish evil of communism and totalitarian socialism.”
Contrary to what many expected to be an even worse debate than last week’s first unofficial clash, Wednesday’s rematch turned out to be far more civil.
While presenter Tom Clark warned against using a “sad trumpet sound” if the contestants didn’t follow official debate rules, he conceded later in the night that all six were “incredibly disciplined” with their time.
“On my behalf, I would like to thank you all for the excellent debate tonight and the exchange of views. As I said, good, passionate debate is the lifeblood of a good democracy,” Clark said.
The audience was also strictly instructed to avoid cheering on the candidates mid-debate.
That’s not to say a few fiery jabs weren’t thrown.
In an exchange, Brown accused Poilievre of “hiding in his basement” during deliberations on whether governments should impose pandemic lockdowns.
On law and order, Charest also targeted Poilievre for his support of the “Freedom Convoy,” arguing that he was trying to “rewrite history” by denying his support for the movement.
All candidates did not shy away from attacking the Liberal-backed policies and Trudeau in particular, although they were asked not to name him.
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