Saturday night was another Conservative leadership “debate,” and again I use the term loosely because there was very little debating going on. Yes, this particular event did offer more chances for rebuttal, but given that it was staged and structured like the most boring academic conference ever (all it was missing was a line-up at the floor mic for people to give fifteen minute speeches in the guise of asking questions to the panel), we still didn’t get a lot of candidates challenging one another. Not that it didn’t happen – it did, but most of the candidates spent their time taking shots at either Kevin O’Leary (particularly deriding him as not being a Conservative), and Maxime Bernier (most especially around his ideas about equalisation, which, to be fair, are a bit daft).
Going after Bernier may not seem like the think you would expect, but he has been leading the race in terms of fundraising, which is not an insignificant thing. One does have to wonder, however, if there are enough self-described libertarians in the Conservative Party to give him the edge he needed. Bernier, incidentally, says he was being attacked because his opponents are afraid of his position on equalisation. And to be fair, he’s probably right, but not for the reason he thinks, but rather because it has the potential to severely damage the party in the more “have not” provinces of the country, most especially in Atlantic Canada, where they already have zero seats.
As for O’Leary, this was his first real event on the campaign, and he didn’t exactly sparkle, but he did stand out from his competitors a few times, both when he refused to criticise the country’s justice system, pointing to his experience abroad, and in the kinds of shots he took at the current government, which were of a more brash tone than other candidates were taking. He also played his ethnic cards, saying he would consider it a personal failure if Lebanese Canadians didn’t all take out party memberships and declaring that he “owns the Irish vote.” Okay then. Will his brashness that help him? Maybe, considering how very milquetoast most of his competition has been, and the crowd who laps up this populist demagoguery seems to love people who “tell it like it is.” O’Leary, meanwhile, shrugged off the attacks and kept his cool, and didn’t take the bait and made a point of directing his attacks to Trudeau (and premiers Wynne and MacNeil) instead of his fellow candidates.
And the rest? Lisa Raitt had her best night ever, possibly bolstered by the fact that it was a bit of a hometown crowd for her, and she seems to be making her working-class roots that much more of her narrative, but I’m still having a hard time seeing what kind of direction she proposes to lead the party in other than “I’m everything Trudeau is not.” Also, props for bringing up that Globe and Mail piece on “unfounded” sexual assault rates and challenging the government to do something about it. Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux were laughable, Chris Alexander seemed to be doing a lot of “me too” to the points of other candidates – most especially Raitt – but had nothing really new to say. Andrew Scheer made a point of being parochial, Michael Chong remains the grown-up at the table which probably dooms his campaign, and for as middle-of-the-road as he is, everyone was quoting Erin O’Toole’s big line of the night saying “We don’t beat the celebrity-in-chief with another celebrity-in-chief.” The problem is that nobody quoted the second half of his statement where he brought up Robert Stanfield as the model to follow. Remember Stanfield? Who never beat the celebrity PM of his day (being Pierre Elliott Trudeau) and who never became prime minister? Yeah, not sure that was the wisest analogy. Also, O’Toole kept making Silence of the Lambs references, but completely wrong ones. He thought he was being funny by calling all 32 Atlantic Canadian Liberal MPs “lambs” who were “silent,” when Silence of the Lambs is about a cannibal and a serial killer. Not sure that was appropriate. Oh, and about eight or nine candidates need to drop out by oh, yesterday, because at this point, they’re going to start doing more damage than good.
Meanwhile, Peter MacKay says that Leitch’s immigration policy is going to damage the party, while Michelle Rempel lists the things she’s looking for in making a decision about a leadership candidate (and spoiler: Kevin O’Leary wouldn’t make the cut).