Conservative leadership candidates take open mic questions, but Leitch leaves early

First the candidates served desserts. Then the audience served up the questions.

But one candidate expected to be part of the debate, Kellie Leitch, left without telling the audience why.

It’s not one of the five official debates in the Conservative Party leadership race, but nine other contenders were in Greely, Ont., south of Ottawa, making their pitch to be the next leader of the Opposition.

Leitch attended the lunch portion of the event and spoke to those who purchased tickets, but she left before the other candidates took to the stage for the debate. There was no official announcement to the crowd explaining why.

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesman for Leitch said she needed to be back in Toronto this afternoon due to an incident at her home.

“Unfortunately that meant she had to leave the Ottawa event before its completion,” wrote Bradley Breton. “I am not at liberty to discuss any more details at this time.”

The Carleton Conservative Association says its lunch event Sunday — billed as the only chance area party members will have to hear from all the contenders in one place — sold out and the room in the small conference facility is packed.

The event, moderated by local MP and former cabinet minister Pierre Poilievre, was open to any member of the public who bought a ticket.

All of questions for the debate portion of the afternoon were not set in advance, organizers say, although some were suggested on Poilievre’s social media feeds.

A raffle is choosing members of the audience to ask questions of their own choosing. The organizers intend to limit questions and responses to about 35 seconds to try to fit in as many as they can in the two-hour event.

Conservative leadership candidates — Saskatoon — Nov. 9, 2016

All 12 of the current candidates for the Conservative Party leadership were in Saskatoon, Sask. Wednesday for the first party-organized debate. But some riding associations and Conservative groups are organizing other events, such as the one Sunday in south Ottawa.

The wide-open format should hint at, not only the candidates’ ability to think on their feet and respond to the unexpected, but also the issues and priorities on the minds of the grassroots partisans likely to be voting next May to choose the next leader.

There is already a large field — 12 as of now, with two or three others possibly joining over the next few weeks leading up to the February deadline. The ranked-ballot format the party will use for this race means candidates must maximize their first-choice endorsements and also their ability to grow support among possible second- or third-choice supporters.

The first officially sanctioned debate in the race was held last Wednesday evening in Saskatoon, Sask.

There are four more party-organized debates to come, including the next one, a bilingual event planned for Moncton, N.B., on Dec. 6.

But over the next six months of campaigning other riding associations or Conservative groups could also organize forums like Sunday’s event in Greely to see the contenders interact face-to-face.

The nine candidates who participated in the debate were:

  • Chris Alexander.
  • Maxime Bernier.
  • Michael Chong.​
  • ​Deepak Obhrai.
  • ​Erin O’Toole.
  • Lisa Raitt.
  • Andrew Saxton.
  • Andrew Scheer.
  • ​Brad Trost.

Steven Blaney and Dan Lindsay are the other two candidates who did not attend.

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