OTTAWA — The campaign for Pierre Poilievre, the perceived front-runner in the federal Conservative leadership race, says he will not take part in a third debate the party plans to host next month.
Jenni Byrne, a senior member of Poilievre’s team, released a statement on Twitter explaining his decision after the party announced it would proceed with the debate in early August.
Conservative party rules say candidates must participate in official leadership debates or face an “automatic $50,000 penalty.”
Byrne’s statement noted Poilievre took part in the first two official debatesin May, plus one put on by the Canada Strong and Free Network — an organization that promotes the conservative movement.
It also slammed the English-language debate the party held in Edmonton in May, calling it an “embarrassment” because it featured sound effects and questions about the candidates’ taste in music and television.
“Candidates were given ping-pong paddles to hold up when they wanted to speak. It was more of a game show than a debate,” it read.
“And it happened despite strong cautions to the party about both the moderator and format — all of which were ignored.”
The debate was hosted by former veteran political journalist Tom Clark.
The statement said the party’s planning of a third debate comes as the Poilievre campaign works to get out the vote among Conservative members.
“The sole objective of the campaign now is to get new members and existing members to fill out their ballots and submit them before the September deadline. Pierre will be on the road again, without interruption, to help make that happen.”
It goes on to attack fellow leadership candidate Jean Charest’s repeated calls for a third debate, saying the ex-Quebec premier couldn’t draw the same crowd sizes as Poilievre did during the phase of the race when candidates were selling memberships to supporters.
“That is why he wants another debate — to use Pierre’s popularity with members to bring out an audience he can’t get on his own.”
Besides Charest, candidates Scott Aitchison and Roman Baber had also expressed support for another debate.
The campaign of Leslyn Lewis had said she would attend as required.
The party says the decision to host a debate in August came after it surveyed members last week. A spokesman said a majority of the 24,000 members who responded expressed support for another debate.
The decision to proceed was made Wednesday night by the party’s leadership election organizing committee.
Although officials and campaigns have just weeks to plan for the event, campaigns had been informed earlier in the race that their candidates could be called back for a debate in early August at the party’s discretion.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2022.
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press