Conservatives Debate Freedom, Foreign Policy, and Energy in First Official Debate

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The candidates running in the Conservative leadership election convened in Edmonton on May 11 for their first official debate in English.

The debate wasn’t as contentious as the last week’s unofficial debate hosted by Canada Strong and Free, but still the candidates took the occasional jabs at each other while putting forth arguments on why they are the one to beat the Liberal government in the next election.

The candidates debated pressing issues facing the country such as Canada’s energy role, the war in Ukraine, and post-pandemic freedoms, focusing on what each thought an authentic Conservative vision of Canada would look like.

Candidate Scott Atchison, MP for Parry Sound-Muskoka, opened the debate, focusing on the need to unify Canada and alleviate much of the division he says has been worsening in the country.

Accusing Trudeau of deliberately dividing Canadians for political gain, Atchison said that the “divisive rhetoric leaves millions of Canadians feeling frustrated and even demonized by their own government.”

“The answer to today’s challenges is not to fan the flames of those frustrations and make Canadians more angry; those politics of division have left you behind,” he said, addressing Canadians.

“You deserve leaders who care more about your success than our own.”

Similarly, Jean Charest, the former premier of Quebec, said that he would focus on national unity, particularly between Eastern and Western Canada.

Other candidates such as Roman Baber, Leslyn Lewis, and Pierre Poilievre focused much of their statements on the need to protect and increase freedoms for Canadians in the aftermath of the pandemic, which at times led to skirmishes among them regarding who was the most sincere in defending freedom in the country.

At one point, Lewis criticized Poilievre for his position on abortion, questioning his ability to defend the conscience rights of those who would vote for pro-life legislation. While others such as Baber and Patrick Brown targeted Poilievre’s authenticity when it came to defending freedoms during the pandemic.

When the discussion turned toward foreign policy and Canada’s role, particularly when it comes to confronting the war in Ukraine, there was broad agreement that Canada should not pursue policies that could result in a direct conflict, but should support Ukraine in other ways.

Charest said the three things Canada should do while working with NATO allies, is to provide lethal weaponry to Ukraine, provide more aid, and open its doors to more Ukrainian refugees.

Poilievre said that he would hesitate to bring in a no-fly zone as it would thrust Canada into a direct conflict with Russia.

“I’m not standing on the stage today promising to declare that war,” he said.

“I’m [taking] the responsible position that we’ll provide the material support necessary that we can as Canadians, both to the population and to those fighting against Russians,” he said.

He added that Canada could play a more strategic role by providing Europe with Canadian energy, “so that Europeans no longer have to fund Russia’s war machine by buying all of its oil and gas.”

On the issue of Canada’s role as an energy producer, there was also broad agreement that Canada should present itself as a prominent energy supplier going forward.

In his opening statement, Baber said that to unlock Canada’s economic potential, Canada should be a “natural resources superpower.”

In response to a question about the future of pipelines and energy in Canada, Lewis also said that Ottawa needs to rethink its approach to the issue.

“It was very short-sighted for us not to invest in pipelines and we’re seeing the implications of that now,” she said.

“In Europe, 40 percent of all the oil that’s purchased is purchased from Russia. We’re actually financing the war between Ukraine and Russia by not getting our products to offset dictatorship oil.”

Shane Miller

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Shane Miller is a political writer based in Ontario.



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