Three of the five candidates vying to become the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada took part in the race’s final debate Wednesday evening in Ottawa.
The bilingual event, with the first half taking part in English, came just over one month from when the party will select its third permanent leader in five years on Sept. 10.
Jean Charest, the former Quebec premier and one only three candidates who took part in the debate, chided the presumed frontrunner, MP Pierre Poilievre, for not participating.
Charest likened Poilievre’s decision to “a fish that says it doesn’t want to swim in the ocean” and thanked Conservative MP Scott Aitchison and former Ontario MPP Roman Baber for showing up on Wednesday.
WATCH | Charest chides Poilievre for being MIA
Charest’s campaign team extended its criticism of Poilievre on Twitter:
Now, let’s hear introductory remarks from Pierre: <a href=”https://t.co/AbCCF3u0Wy”>https://t.co/AbCCF3u0Wy</a><a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/cdnpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#cdnpoli</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/cpcldr?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#cpcldr</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/cpcdebate?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#cpcdebate</a>
MP Leslyn Lewis also did not participate in the debate but was not specifically criticized for her absence.
The party confirmed Wednesday it has already received roughly 150,000 ballots from a voter list with more than 670,000 names. The number of party members is more than double the size it was when Erin O’Toole was chosen to lead the Conservatives in 2020.
Poilievre, Lewis sit out debate
Poilievre and Lewis hosted meet-and-greets with supporters at the same time as Wednesday’s debate in Regina, Sask., and Cornwall, P.E.I., respectively.
Poilievre’s team previously signaled he would not take part in the debate because they felt the first debate back in May was “an embarrassment” and he wants instead to shore up voter support.
Lewis said she had received no information about the debate format and that she had told the party she would not be available on the date set for the event.
“Their decision is up to them,” Aitchison said before entering the debate venue.
“The members of the party deserve to be treated with respect. It’s that simple,” Charest said moments later.
Under party rules, candidates must attend official party debates or face a $50,000 fine.
The party’s Leadership Election Organizing Committee said it decided to hold a third debate after finding that a majority of surveyed members supported the move.