PC lead­er­ship hope­ful Kevin O’Leary has backed out of Tues­day’s debate in Ed­mon­ton

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - STEPHANIE LEVITZ

OT­TAWA — 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 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.”

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, fast-talk­ing 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.

O’Leary faces a $10,000 fine for fail­ing to ap­pear at a manda­tory party event.

CANA­DIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO

Kevin O’Leary ad­dresses a Tory lead­er­ship debate ear­lier this month.

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