Michael Taube: Tory Leadership Debates: Intensity May Surprise Some, but It’s Not New and Not Unique to Canada

CommentaryCanada’s Conservative Party has held several debates involving its six leadership candidates. It’s notable to mention that political observers and party members who have either watched or attended these events have remarked on what they perceive as being a similar theme—that is, the leaders’ debates have been more intense, divisive, and politically charged than anything they’ve ever witnessed before in this country. Is that a valid assessment? Yes, to some extent. The language at these debates has been pretty rough at times. This has been quite evident during fiery exchanges between acknowledged frontrunner Pierre Poilievre and his closest rival, Jean Charest. During the first (and unofficial) leaders’ debate, at the Canada Strong and Free Network conference in Ottawa on May 5, Charest said that “this mess” with the Freedom Convoy in Ottawa “is the fault of Mr. Trudeau,” but then went on to say that Poilievre “during that time, supported an illegal blockade. You cannot make laws and break laws and then say ‘I will make laws for other people.’” The crowd booed Charest’s remarks and cheered Poilievre after he blasted the former federal PC leader and Quebec Liberal premier for “once again repeating a bunch of Trudeau rhetoric on our hardworking truckers.” The Conservative MP and former cabinet minister also had a long back-and-forth exchange with Charest, stating that he “needs to come clean with how much money he got from” Huawei Technologies when he worked with the Chinese telecom. The former provided a non-response each and every time. Meanwhile, Poilievre pointed out that Charest, who claims to be pro-choice, supported the recriminalization of abortion when Brian Mulroney was prime minister. “That was your position,” he said at the May 11 debate in Edmonton. “You seem to have forgotten it. You’ve forgotten a lot of things about your record.” Charest put more gasoline on the fire during the May 25 debate in Laval. He targeted Poilievre when he asked whether Conservatives would “take the path of American-style politics, attack politics, politics where we pit one group against another, politics where we make slogans and every answer is a dodge?” His candidacy supposedly offered the choice of “not to be a pseudo-American,” and a leader “who is able to unite the party and who has judgment, who doesn’t go sending signals about conspiracy theories, who goes off into theories about the Bank of Canada or bitcoin.” Other leadership candidates have joined the fray, too. Leslyn Lewis critiqued Poilievre for not being one of the “loudest voices” during the Freedom Convoy, and claimed that “you did not even speak up until it was convenient for you.” Patrick Brown pushed back against Poilievre’s interest in cryptocurrency, calling it “magic internet money.” Polievre blasted Charest and Brown in tandem for working as a “little coalition.” Canadians are aware that politicians can be combative in the House of Commons and provincial legislatures, and outside those hallowed halls. They’re simply not used to seeing these types of strong-willed battles between leadership candidates of any political party. Fair enough, but it’s important to keep a few things in mind. When you’re fighting for the heart and soul of the party, as the Conservative leadership candidates are doing, the tone, tenor, and language of a debate will increase and become more negative. I’m not justifying this, of course, but it’s part and parcel of what we should expect to see from now until the Sept. 10 vote. It’s also not a unique phenomenon to Canada. This happens in many other countries. Intensity was on full display during the U.S. presidential debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016, and between Trump and Joe Biden in 2020, and there have been equally intense senatorial and gubernatorial debates. The UK has had some strongly worded battles in recent leaders’ debates in 2015, 2017, and 2019. An emotionally charged leaders’ debate occurred in France earlier this year between presidential incumbent Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. The same thing happened in Australia between then-prime minister Scott Morrison and Labor leader Anthony Albanese, which led to a brief shouting match. There have even been fierce leaders’ debates in Asia and Africa that put these exchanges to shame, too. Long story short, this is something Canadians need to get used to seeing in leaders’ debates going forward. It’s the way of the world, and the nature of modern political debates. We’re not immune from it, I’m afraid. Neither are Canada’s other parties, for that matter. The Jean Chretien-Paul Martin Liberal leadership struggle, rise of far-left NDP wings like the Waffle and Socialist Caucus, and wild battle involving the Green Party and now-former leader Annamie Paul is evidence of this. In time, they’ll be marching to the same debate tune and wondering how it all came to pass. Now, they’ll know why. Views expressed in this article

Michael Taube: Tory Leadership Debates: Intensity May Surprise Some, but It’s Not New and Not Unique to Canada

Commentary

Canada’s Conservative Party has held several debates involving its six leadership candidates. It’s notable to mention that political observers and party members who have either watched or attended these events have remarked on what they perceive as being a similar theme—that is, the leaders’ debates have been more intense, divisive, and politically charged than anything they’ve ever witnessed before in this country.

Is that a valid assessment?

Yes, to some extent.

The language at these debates has been pretty rough at times. This has been quite evident during fiery exchanges between acknowledged frontrunner Pierre Poilievre and his closest rival, Jean Charest.

During the first (and unofficial) leaders’ debate, at the Canada Strong and Free Network conference in Ottawa on May 5, Charest said that “this mess” with the Freedom Convoy in Ottawa “is the fault of Mr. Trudeau,” but then went on to say that Poilievre “during that time, supported an illegal blockade. You cannot make laws and break laws and then say ‘I will make laws for other people.’”

The crowd booed Charest’s remarks and cheered Poilievre after he blasted the former federal PC leader and Quebec Liberal premier for “once again repeating a bunch of Trudeau rhetoric on our hardworking truckers.”

The Conservative MP and former cabinet minister also had a long back-and-forth exchange with Charest, stating that he “needs to come clean with how much money he got from” Huawei Technologies when he worked with the Chinese telecom. The former provided a non-response each and every time.

Meanwhile, Poilievre pointed out that Charest, who claims to be pro-choice, supported the recriminalization of abortion when Brian Mulroney was prime minister. “That was your position,” he said at the May 11 debate in Edmonton. “You seem to have forgotten it. You’ve forgotten a lot of things about your record.”

Charest put more gasoline on the fire during the May 25 debate in Laval. He targeted Poilievre when he asked whether Conservatives would “take the path of American-style politics, attack politics, politics where we pit one group against another, politics where we make slogans and every answer is a dodge?” His candidacy supposedly offered the choice of “not to be a pseudo-American,” and a leader “who is able to unite the party and who has judgment, who doesn’t go sending signals about conspiracy theories, who goes off into theories about the Bank of Canada or bitcoin.”

Other leadership candidates have joined the fray, too. Leslyn Lewis critiqued Poilievre for not being one of the “loudest voices” during the Freedom Convoy, and claimed that “you did not even speak up until it was convenient for you.” Patrick Brown pushed back against Poilievre’s interest in cryptocurrency, calling it “magic internet money.” Polievre blasted Charest and Brown in tandem for working as a “little coalition.”

Canadians are aware that politicians can be combative in the House of Commons and provincial legislatures, and outside those hallowed halls. They’re simply not used to seeing these types of strong-willed battles between leadership candidates of any political party.

Fair enough, but it’s important to keep a few things in mind.

When you’re fighting for the heart and soul of the party, as the Conservative leadership candidates are doing, the tone, tenor, and language of a debate will increase and become more negative. I’m not justifying this, of course, but it’s part and parcel of what we should expect to see from now until the Sept. 10 vote.

It’s also not a unique phenomenon to Canada. This happens in many other countries.

Intensity was on full display during the U.S. presidential debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016, and between Trump and Joe Biden in 2020, and there have been equally intense senatorial and gubernatorial debates.

The UK has had some strongly worded battles in recent leaders’ debates in 2015, 2017, and 2019. An emotionally charged leaders’ debate occurred in France earlier this year between presidential incumbent Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. The same thing happened in Australia between then-prime minister Scott Morrison and Labor leader Anthony Albanese, which led to a brief shouting match. There have even been fierce leaders’ debates in Asia and Africa that put these exchanges to shame, too.

Long story short, this is something Canadians need to get used to seeing in leaders’ debates going forward. It’s the way of the world, and the nature of modern political debates. We’re not immune from it, I’m afraid.

Neither are Canada’s other parties, for that matter. The Jean Chretien-Paul Martin Liberal leadership struggle, rise of far-left NDP wings like the Waffle and Socialist Caucus, and wild battle involving the Green Party and now-former leader Annamie Paul is evidence of this. In time, they’ll be marching to the same debate tune and wondering how it all came to pass. Now, they’ll know why.

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


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Michael Taube, a longtime newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.