PC leadership hopeful Kevin O’Leary has backed out of Tuesday’s debate in Edmonton
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.
Kevin O’Leary addresses a Tory leadership debate earlier this month.