December 6, 2019

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Former Dragon dodges local Tory leadership debate

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Rick Peterson speaks at a Conservative Party of Canada leadership forum in Winnipeg, Thursday.

CP

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS Rick Peterson speaks at a Conservative Party of Canada leadership forum in Winnipeg, Thursday.

As expected, Kevin O'Leary was a no show at the Conservative leadership debate that rolled through Winnipeg Thursday evening.

The bid by the celebrity businessman to head the federal party that Stephen Harper led to power for nearly a decade may have been on everyone's lips.

But the former Dragon wasn't invited to speak at the forum.

One reason was that O'Leary's candidacy papers are so new the party hasn't processed them yet.

"He's not an official candidate," said Shawn Nason, president of the Elmwood Transcona P.C. Riding Association which organized the forum.

CHRIS YOUNG / THE CANADIAN PRESS</p><p>Newly announced Federal Conservative leadership candidate Kevin O'Leary wasn't invited to participate in the leadership debate in Winnipeg, Thursday evening.</p>

CHRIS YOUNG / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Newly announced Federal Conservative leadership candidate Kevin O'Leary wasn't invited to participate in the leadership debate in Winnipeg, Thursday evening.

So while the one man everybody knows is running for the Tory leadership can't officially take part until his papers are in order.

That necessity for paperwork came in for some jesting at Thursday's forum.

Fred Westphal, a past party member at the federal and provincial levels – they're separate memberships – joked, "You see? Administration will get you every time."

He added that Winnipeg would have been a good place for O'Leary to start. "He's the one everybody's waiting to see."

Ten of the 14 candidates did show up; absent were controversial Canadian values candidate Kellie Leith, Chris Alexander, a former immigration minister under Harper and Erin O'Toole, an Ontario MP who's attracted substantial support from Manitoba Conservatives.

The event was moderated by Rod Bruinooge, the former Tory MP for Winnipeg South, who got as much applause as the candidates did.

The event at the Metropolitan on Donald Street packed in a healthy crowd who paid $40 apiece; most of the 300 seats were filled with party faithful and "invited" media. The Free Press was not on the list, but was let in at the last minute to observe the forum.

All 10 candidates delivered short introductions before moving on to policy issues in the two-hour debate, which was followed by a reception.

Some in the audience openly questioned whether O'Leary's fundamental values were really conservative.

The Michie family, fundamental conservatives and devoted Christians see O'Leary as an opportunist.

And that's despite the fact family matriarch Rose Michie favours Donald Trump, who will be inaugurated as the U.S. president Friday.

"Every time I've listened to him, he's turned me off. Kevin O'Leary's too focused on money," Michie said.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

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