John Robson: Who Won and Who Lost in the Tory Leadership Debate

CommentaryIf I said I enjoyed the Conservative Party leadership debate at the Canada Strong and Free conference in Ottawa on May 5, you might begin to doubt my sanity, your own, or both. And yes, I’d normally prefer to undergo a root canal than endure such a thing, because they typically confirm that if the people who would lead us ever had an idea, it was long ago and they won’t let it happen again. But this one was informative, possibly because it wasn’t run by the usual consortium. Five of six official candidates showed up, which already revealed that something strange is going on with Patrick Brown, trying to sign up members with surreptitiously tailored promises to ethnic communities rather than some open appeal to the common good. So you can scratch him off your card. It was also revealing that Scott Aitchison wants Tories to be nice in their niceness. Granted, politics is especially nasty in these troubled times when self-control is considered cringy. But it also gets so personal because it’s devoid of ideas, and he didn’t try to offer substance in place of abuse, just blandness. So off he goes too. In my view Leslyn Lewis turned in a peculiar performance of the sort Aitchison deplores. Instead of the expected charm and substance, she was nasty and narrow. Including accusing Pierre Poilievre of being insufficiently supportive of the truckers’ convoy, a complaint as odd in substantive as partisan terms. And while claiming plausibly to be best-placed to reach out to key demographics, she failed to deliver the obvious bring-down-the-house line, “In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a black woman.” She seemed far too tense to function properly, which wouldn’t happen to a true leader. Which brings me to Jean Charest. A stale elitist, he predictably wanted conservatives to unite around unity and have the principle of principledness. The sort of overly polished stuff that normally makes these debates such an ordeal. But to my surprise, he knew he faced a tough crowd, a room full of actual conservatives (for instance, not a mask in sight) and misplayed it amateurishly. He had to ooze the sort of confidence and charm that might win Tories an election without all those bothersome specific principles and policies based on them. Which I’d have thought he could do in his sleep, and ours, since he’s a veteran politician and, as far as one can ever tell with such people, a genuinely nice guy. Instead he lost his cool, rattled by Poilievre’s constant nipping at him. Poilievre also surprised me. Though in his case by being his usual self. With the room behind him, he should have been more relaxed and statesmanlike to allay concerns that he’s a great attack dog but no leader. Instead he was typical Pierre, right down to repeatedly barking over Charest about how much Huawei paid him. It’s a legitimate question (to which Terry Glavin gives us a disquieting answer, over $70,000 a month, the sort of sum you’d pay for influence, not ideas). But it made Poilievre look juvenile and petty when he should have played the leader. Who’s left? If you’re having trouble remembering, even with the hint “Soviet-born,” it’s Roman Baber. Who? The Ontario provincial legislator expelled from Doug Ford’s caucus for challenging COVID-driven infringements of liberty. And while everyone claims to want more independence in politics, normally when someone gets booted from caucus the sad truth is they’re impossible to get along with intellectually, personally, or both. (Like my longtime associate Randy Hillier, whose principles seem to have curdled.) Perhaps because I expected little from Baber on those grounds, I thought he won hands down. He alone seemed to understand what he had to do, what pitfalls and possibilities various audience preconceptions created for him, and only he handled the situation like a leader. Including making his personal experience of tyranny a highly relevant part of his story in these troubled times. Lewis got off one excellent line, that Poilievre had to be prime minister, not just finance minister. And he muffed the obvious response that she had to be more than just human resources development minister. But while Aitchison and Baber claimed to like their fellow candidates (Charest and Poilievre pettily refused to shake hands) someone should have said, with appropriate deletion: “Look, I like and respect all of you. And when we win the election, Pierre I want you in Finance, Jean gets Foreign Affairs, Scott’s so good at getting along that he’ll have Intergovernmental Relations, Leslyn Human Resources, and Roman Defence.” It would have sounded confident and magnanimous. Most of them didn’t, including the ones you’d think would know when and how to fake it. Which to my surprise made the debate more interesting than a root canal, and less painful. Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times. Follow John Rob

John Robson: Who Won and Who Lost in the Tory Leadership Debate

Commentary

If I said I enjoyed the Conservative Party leadership debate at the Canada Strong and Free conference in Ottawa on May 5, you might begin to doubt my sanity, your own, or both. And yes, I’d normally prefer to undergo a root canal than endure such a thing, because they typically confirm that if the people who would lead us ever had an idea, it was long ago and they won’t let it happen again. But this one was informative, possibly because it wasn’t run by the usual consortium.

Five of six official candidates showed up, which already revealed that something strange is going on with Patrick Brown, trying to sign up members with surreptitiously tailored promises to ethnic communities rather than some open appeal to the common good. So you can scratch him off your card.

It was also revealing that Scott Aitchison wants Tories to be nice in their niceness. Granted, politics is especially nasty in these troubled times when self-control is considered cringy. But it also gets so personal because it’s devoid of ideas, and he didn’t try to offer substance in place of abuse, just blandness. So off he goes too.

In my view Leslyn Lewis turned in a peculiar performance of the sort Aitchison deplores. Instead of the expected charm and substance, she was nasty and narrow. Including accusing Pierre Poilievre of being insufficiently supportive of the truckers’ convoy, a complaint as odd in substantive as partisan terms. And while claiming plausibly to be best-placed to reach out to key demographics, she failed to deliver the obvious bring-down-the-house line, “In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a black woman.” She seemed far too tense to function properly, which wouldn’t happen to a true leader.

Which brings me to Jean Charest. A stale elitist, he predictably wanted conservatives to unite around unity and have the principle of principledness. The sort of overly polished stuff that normally makes these debates such an ordeal. But to my surprise, he knew he faced a tough crowd, a room full of actual conservatives (for instance, not a mask in sight) and misplayed it amateurishly.

He had to ooze the sort of confidence and charm that might win Tories an election without all those bothersome specific principles and policies based on them. Which I’d have thought he could do in his sleep, and ours, since he’s a veteran politician and, as far as one can ever tell with such people, a genuinely nice guy. Instead he lost his cool, rattled by Poilievre’s constant nipping at him.

Poilievre also surprised me. Though in his case by being his usual self. With the room behind him, he should have been more relaxed and statesmanlike to allay concerns that he’s a great attack dog but no leader. Instead he was typical Pierre, right down to repeatedly barking over Charest about how much Huawei paid him. It’s a legitimate question (to which Terry Glavin gives us a disquieting answer, over $70,000 a month, the sort of sum you’d pay for influence, not ideas). But it made Poilievre look juvenile and petty when he should have played the leader.

Who’s left? If you’re having trouble remembering, even with the hint “Soviet-born,” it’s Roman Baber. Who? The Ontario provincial legislator expelled from Doug Ford’s caucus for challenging COVID-driven infringements of liberty. And while everyone claims to want more independence in politics, normally when someone gets booted from caucus the sad truth is they’re impossible to get along with intellectually, personally, or both. (Like my longtime associate Randy Hillier, whose principles seem to have curdled.)

Perhaps because I expected little from Baber on those grounds, I thought he won hands down. He alone seemed to understand what he had to do, what pitfalls and possibilities various audience preconceptions created for him, and only he handled the situation like a leader. Including making his personal experience of tyranny a highly relevant part of his story in these troubled times.

Lewis got off one excellent line, that Poilievre had to be prime minister, not just finance minister. And he muffed the obvious response that she had to be more than just human resources development minister. But while Aitchison and Baber claimed to like their fellow candidates (Charest and Poilievre pettily refused to shake hands) someone should have said, with appropriate deletion: “Look, I like and respect all of you. And when we win the election, Pierre I want you in Finance, Jean gets Foreign Affairs, Scott’s so good at getting along that he’ll have Intergovernmental Relations, Leslyn Human Resources, and Roman Defence.”

It would have sounded confident and magnanimous. Most of them didn’t, including the ones you’d think would know when and how to fake it. Which to my surprise made the debate more interesting than a root canal, and less painful.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


Follow

John Robson is a documentary filmmaker, National Post columnist, contributing editor to the Dorchester Review, and executive director of the Climate Discussion Nexus. His most recent documentary is “The Environment: A True Story.”

Colloquial Chinese (Colloquial Series)