The Conservative party leadership debate in Montreal’s West Island was replete with political theatre, including a glass of milk used as a prop, two candidates being shut out altogether, and celebrity businessman Kevin O’Leary showcasing his heavily-accented French.
About 250 people packed into the Holiday Inn in Pointe-Claire, Que., to hear 11 of the 14 candidates vying for the party’s top job.
Early in the evening, O’Leary addressed concerns about his ability to express himself in French by giving his opening statements entirely in the language.
Throughout the evening, O’Leary spoke in his second language — often reading from a sheet in his hand — and said he’s working daily with a tutor to improve his fluency.
Quebec City shooting addressed
The room fell silent when candidates were asked what politicians need to do to renew engagement with minorities.
The question made specific reference to the Quebec City mosque shooting.
Each question in the debate was addressed specifically to three candidates. This question was directed to two Quebec candidates — Maxime Bernier and Steven Blaney — and Kellie Leitch.
Leitch has proposed newcomers to Canada go through a screening process to ensure they fit “Canadian values” before being allowed in the country.
In response, she said the shooting that left six dead and 17 children without their fathers was a “travesty,” but reiterated her plan to implement a screening process for immigrants and refugees.
Supply management theatrics
In a scene that might’ve been taken from the script of the Broadway musical Hamilton, Bernier and Blaney engaged in a rap-battle-esque argument over supply management.
Bernier has built his campaign on being a staunch supporter of the free market. Blaney spent his opening and closing remarks extolling the virtues of Canada’s dairy, egg and poultry quota system.
He carried a cup of milk on stage as a prop to show his support.
The two men candidates took turns responding directly to each other, mics in hand. When Blaney’s microphone was cut off because he surpassed his allotted amount of time, he continued yelling.
Both Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux were shut out of the debate after a “communications breakdown” between their campaigns and the riding associations that organized the debate.
Both candidates were in the room, but weren’t allowed to debate.
The only candidate absent was Deepak Ohbrai, who had a scheduling conflict.
Conservative Party members will elect their next leader on May 27.