Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate Kevin O’Leary won’t be joining his 13 colleagues at a debate Tuesday night in Edmonton.
The “Shark Tank” star and perceived front-runner in the race to be party leader and leader of Canada’s official opposition says it’s because he doesn’t like the debate format of having all the candidates on the stage together.
But Ontario Member of Parliament (MP) and former labor minister Kellie Leitch told The Daily Caller that O’Leary is “disrespecting the lifeblood of the party” by refusing to debate in Edmonton. The “Canadian values” candidate said “Kevin wants to be leader of the Conservative Party along with all of his other pursuits. But a party leader is the captain of the team and he needs to show up. If he has other priorities, that’s fine – but being the leader of the official opposition is a full-time job.”
Leitch said she did not think O’Leary’s planned absence has anything to do with the bilingual format of the debate and his proficiency in French. “He’s just Belinda Stronach [a former Liberal cabinet minister who switched parties] in a suit,” she said.
Other leadership candidates aren’t buying O’Leary’s argument either, including Ontario MP and former transport minister Lisa Raitt, who tweeted “Chicken.”
O’Leary sent out a message to his supporters on Monday, saying that that the Conservative Party should change the way the debates are showcase because it allow for “no real debate.”
“I said from the beginning that it is a bad format to have fourteen people on stage answering the same question with no back and forth. It allows no time for ideas to be explained, or any real debate to transpire. This past weekend we saw a great format that worked at the Manning Centre Conference,” O’Leary wrote in an email.
The Manning Centre format brought candidates up to the stage three or four at a time to answer debate questions and then interact with each other and rebut responses. In larger debate venues, O’Leary has been the primary target of criticism for many of his colleagues who see him as an opportunist and fault him for spending too much time in the U.S., where he works and owns a home in Boston.
“My campaign worked hard to build a consensus to change the format of the Edmonton debate to mirror what we used this past weekend. All but one candidate agreed the Manning Centre format was better, and should be used in Edmonton,” O’Leary continued in the email.
“Unfortunately, Party organizers have informed my team that despite all but one campaign agreeing to the change, they would be continuing with the terrible previous format. I am obviously disappointed.”
O’Leary plans to opts for “an intimate fireside discussion, and I look forward to taking members’ questions.” It will take place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Westin Edmonton in the Turner Valley Room, followed by a media scrum.
O’Leary’s campaign told The Daily Caller “Mr. O’Leary and the campaign team have heard from our supporters that the format that the Party had decided on did nothing to help the debate and members to understand the visions of the candidates.”
Saskatchewan MP Andrew Scheer who is also seeking the leadership was not convinced by O’Leary’s explanation for his planned absence from the debate.
“I think this is more about him not wanting to debate rather than the format of the debate,” Scheer told CBC News.