Conservative leadership candidates to face off in Edmonton for next debate

Conservatives tuning into the next leadership debate hope to see the six candidates vying for the party’s top job lay off the personal attacks, says one campaign manager.

“I want the candidates to speak to the issues, debate the issues, debate them vigorously. But don’t become personal,” said Ed Fast, the British Columbia MP who is co-chairing former Quebec premier Jean Charest’s leadership campaign.

“At the end of the day, all of us are part of the Conservative family and we’re going to have to come together to fight the next election and be successful.”

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Charest, along with the contest’s other five contenders, are headed to Edmonton to participate in the party’s first official debate happening in English on Wednesday, which will be followed by one in French two weeks later.

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Party members and interested Canadians had a chance to see how five out of the six candidates reacted to one another when they took the stage in Ottawa last week for an unofficial debate, held as part of a conference for conservative and faithful.

They saw an hour and a half of fiery exchanges, which included Leslyn Lewis laying into fellow MP Pierre Poilievre for his stand against COVID-19 mandates and Poilievre going after Charest for his past work with Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. Poilievre also accused Charest of being a Liberal for having led the Quebec Liberal party.

“Our members are highly engaged,” said Andrew Scheer, the former Conservative leader and Saskatchewan MP who is now working to get Poilievre elected.

“Our members want to see how leadership candidates can handle the sparring from each other, because it’s going to be a lot tougher in a general election campaign.”

Click to play video: 'Federal Conservative leadership debate'

Federal Conservative leadership debate

Federal Conservative leadership debate

Speaking ahead of last week’s debate, Scheer said Poilievre — who has earned the reputation of being a bulldog through years of aggressive performances in the House of Commons — also comes with a deep knowledge of policy.

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“He is one of the most well prepared members of Parliament I’ve ever seen,” Scheer said.

Laryssa Waler, who previously served as Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s director of communications, said debates take a back seat to the party memberships candidates have to sell to supporters by June 3, if they hope to count on them picking their name on the party’s ranked ballot. .

She said while watching debates, it’s important to remember most Conservatives have already chosen which candidate to back. Those on stage are also looking for opportunities to chip away at the support of their rivals, Waler added.

“Everybody else on that stage needs Pierre not to get per cent,” she said, referring to the fact that a must achieve majority support to be declared the winner when the ballots are counted on Sept. 10.

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