In ducking debate, Poilievre speaks volumes about his integrity

It’s obvious why Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre is violating party rules by refusing to participate in an upcoming debate: he has everything to lose and almost nothing to gain.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/07/2022 (201 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s obvious why Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre is violating party rules by refusing to participate in an upcoming debate: he has everything to lose and almost nothing to gain.

Poilievre, the perceived front-runner, appears to have sold more memberships than anyone else in the race. Barring some miraculous turn of events, the Ontario MP (Carleton) seems poised to become the next Conservative leader when the results of the vote are released in September.

So why would he take the chance of spoiling that lead with another poor showing in a candidates debate — like the one in May, where Poilievre’s clown-like antics revealed how ill-suited he is to become the next prime minister of Canada?

Conservative leadership hopefuls during the French-language debate in Laval, Quebec on May 25. (Ryan Remiorz / The Canadian Press files)

Strategically, it’s safer for him not to take that chance.

Poilievre did not do well in the party leadership debate in Edmonton two months ago. His pledge to fire Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem was widely panned, and his obsession with conspiracy theories (including a baseless suggestion Canada is poised to ban cryptocurrency Bitcoin “like communist China”) revealed a candidate not fit to lead the country.

When confronted on live television about the nonsensical statements, including his deranged claim Canadians have “lost control of their lives” or they should purchase cryptocurrencies to insulate themselves from inflation, Poilievre appears unelectable among the broader Canadian electorate.

Another showing like the one in Edmonton could only cause political harm. Why risk it, especially when he doesn’t have to?

Poilievre’s sole objective now is to convince the tens of thousands of people who bought Conservative party memberships at his infomercial-like rallies to mail in their ballots, with a check mark beside his name. Nothing else matters.

If he can get the majority of his newly-recruited disciples (many of whom are not long-time party members but whose vote will have the same weight as those who have devoted years to it) to cast their ballots, he will almost certainly win.

Poilievre only follows party rules when it suits him. It’s not unlike his support for the leaders of the so-called “freedom convoy,” some of whom are now facing criminal prosecution for their illegal occupation of downtown Ottawa.

Why would he Pierre Poilievre take the chance of spoiling his lead with another poor showing in a candidates debate? (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The rural south Ottawa MP claims to be on the side of law and order. However, he’s not above walking shoulder-to-shoulder with illegal occupiers if he thinks it will help sign up more angry, disgruntled supporters.

Conservative party rules clearly stipulate all leadership candidates must participate in its leaders debates: “Participation is mandatory and no substitution will be permitted.”

Party members have a right to get a good look at candidates before casting their vote. They want to see how candidates respond to questions and size up their public performance before choosing the next leader.

By hiding and refusing to attend the third debate, Poilievre is depriving members of that right. Instead, he’s willing to pay a $50,000 fine to the party for breaking its rules.

Poilievre hasn’t offered a coherent reason for refusing to participate in August. His campaign spokesperson said he prefers to focus on getting the vote out rather than engaging in a public debate.

He could do both, which is the accepted practice in leadership campaigns.

Poilievre’s team also bashed party organizers this week for what they characterized as a farcical debate in May. They called it “an embarrassment.” The implication is Poilievre has no interest in participating in another poorly run event.

Poilievre’s sole objective now is to convince the tens of thousands of people who bought Conservative party memberships at his infomercial-like rallies to mail in their ballots, with a check mark beside his name. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

In other words, the Conservative MP is happy use the party as a vehicle to gain power, but will openly criticize party officials when their decisions don’t suit his political needs.

If Poilievre had the courage of his convictions, he would participate. If he truly believed in the political messages he’s trying to sell, he would be willing to stand on a stage with other candidates and debate the issues of the day.

The fact he is unwilling to do so speaks volumes about his integrity. It is nothing short of political cowardice.

tom.brodbeck@freepress.mb.ca

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
Columnist

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.

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