O’Leary bails on Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship de­bate

Cape Breton Post - - CANADA - THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Celebrity busi­ness­man Kevin O’Leary has ripped an­other page out of U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s cam­paign play book, back­ing out of a planned Con­ser­va­tive party lead­er­ship de­bate over frus­tra­tions with the for­mat.

His move to boy­cott Tues­day’s de­bate in Ed­mon­ton prompted im­me­di­ate cries of foul from his com­peti­tors, some of whom ac­cused him of mak­ing up the no­tion that all but one of the 14 lead­er­ship con­tenders agreed that the for­mat needed to be changed.

O’Leary con­tended that hav­ing all 14 can­di­dates ap­pear on stage to­gether to an­swer the same ques­tions — as is planned for the Ed­mon­ton event — is un­pro­duc­tive.

“It al­lows no time for ideas to be ex­plained, or any real de­bate to tran­spire,” he said in a state­ment Mon­day.

He claimed his team had worked to build con­sen­sus for a switch to the for­mat used at a con­ser­va­tive move­ment con­fer­ence in Ot­tawa last Fri­day and that all can­di­dates but one agreed.

In Fri­day’s de­bate, or­ga­nized by the arms-length Man­ning Cen­tre, the can­di­dates were di­vided into small groups, each of which tack­led a spe­cific pol­icy is­sue.

In re­fus­ing to adopt the same for­mat, the party let down its mem­ber­ship, O’Leary said.

“I be­lieve it should be re­spon­sive and fo­cused on what will pro­vide mem­bers with the best op­por­tu­nity to hear from can­di­dates in a mean­ing­ful way,” he said.

Erin O’Toole said O’Leary’s the one who’s let­ting down grass­roots Con­ser­va­tives.

“It shows a con­tin­ued lack of re­spect for our mem­bers,” he said.

O’Leary is often likened to Trump for their shared busi­ness-to-re­al­ity-TV-to-pol­i­tics path, and their brash, fasttalk­ing pitches di­rectly to vot­ers on so­cial me­dia chan­nels, even though on so­cial pol­icy they re­main worlds apart.

O’Leary has been com­plain­ing about the de­bate for­mat since be­fore he joined the race, and de­layed join­ing at all un­til af­ter the only French lan­guage de­bate.

Trump had a testy re­la­tion­ship with both the pri­mary and pres­i­den­tial de­bates dur­ing his run. Dur­ing the pri­maries, he bailed on a Fox News de­bate say­ing the network was toy­ing with him, and with­out him, no one would watch. He ac­cused the Com­mis­sion on Pres­i­den­tial De­bates of be­ing rigged against him af­ter mi­cro­phone prob­lems.

Lisa Raitt called O’Leary a “chicken” for stay­ing away from Tues­day’s event.

“For­mat is ir­rel­e­vant. Pres­ence is manda­tory. Suck it up and play by the rules,” she wrote on Twitter.

O’Leary faces a $10,000 fine for fail­ing to ap­pear at a manda­tory party event. His cam­paign says the money will come out of the $25,000 he per­son­ally do­nated to the race — the max­i­mum each can­di­date can con­tribute to them­selves.

The party had been mulling chang­ing the de­bate for­mat for weeks but O’Leary’s cam­paign did not pro­pose the Man­ning con­fer­ence style for­mat un­til last week­end. Coming just four days be­fore the Ed­mon­ton de­bate, the party re­quired all 14 cam­paigns to agree.

Kel­lie Leitch and Maxime Bernier’s cam­paigns both told The Cana­dian Press they weren’t ex­cited about a change in for­mat and told the party so.

But Steven Blaney’s cam­paign just flat out said no.

O’Leary was afraid of be­ing con­fronted on is­sues like his sup­port gun con­trol and mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion, Blaney spokesman Pierre-Luc Jean said.

“Af­ter fail­ing to show up to the only French de­bate, in Que­bec City, Kevin O’Leary has found an­other ex­cuse to avoid a bilin­gual de­bate,” he said.

“As a TV celebrity, Kevin O’Leary is used to get­ting his way, and when he doesn’t, he leaves.”

Other can­di­dates claimed they were never can­vassed at all.

“I can­not speak for the other lead­er­ship teams but there was no con­tact from (O’Leary) or the party that would con­sti­tute can­vass­ing over one par­tic­u­lar for­mat,” said can­di­date Rick Peter­son.

CP PHOTO

Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship can­di­date Kevin O’Leary says he won’t take part in Tues­day’s of­fi­cial party de­bate in Ed­mon­ton, cit­ing the for­mat.

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