Conservatives spar over carbon tax at leadership debate in Vancouver

Conservative leadership hopefuls squared off Sunday for the second of two back-to-back leadership debates in British Columbia.

Debate with 9 of 14 candidates touched on range of topics including taxes, refugees, niqab

Candidates are seen on stage during a federal Conservative Party leadership debate in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday February 19, 2017. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Conservative leadership hopefuls squared off Sunday afternoon for the second of two back-to-back leadership debates in British Columbia.

The debate, which features nine of the 14 candidates, touched on a range of topics including job creation, health-care funding, Islamophobia and how best to deal with U.S. President Donald Trump's restrictions on immigration.

The format saw candidates revolve on and off the stage at the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver, so that, at any given time, a pair of candidates answered questions posed by moderator Kirk Lapointe, a former newspaper executive and CBC ombudsman.

After that, the candidates gathered on stage together. Organizers said about 375 people attended the event.

Many of the candidates have similar positions, criticizing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's spending record, calling for lower taxes and better health care.

But some candidates sparred on whether to introduce a national carbon tax, an environmental policy first introduced in British Columbia and proposed by the current Canadian government.

Michael Chong favours such a tax, saying it will bring in enough revenue to introduce a multi-billion dollar income tax cut.

But North Vancouver's Andrew Saxton said a carbon tax will hinder business and cost jobs. Rather, Saxton said he would try to negotiate an agreement with the U.S. to lower emissions.

On relations with the U.S., Lisa Raitt and Brad Trost said Trudeau should not interfere with Trump's controversial plan to bar people from countries with Muslim majorities.

Criticizes Trudeau tweet

Raitt criticized Trudeau's tweet last month that said Canada remains open to refugees of all faiths, saying it may have spurred a wave of dangerous asylum bids at Canada-U.S. border crossings.

In recent weeks, refugee claimants have made treks across Manitoba and Quebec border crossings in sub-zero weather.

And Steven Blaney waded again into the niqab debate, which first flared in 2015, saying he believes that people who take a citizenship oath should not wear clothing that covers the face.

"What do we do when we need a passport? We show our passport," Blaney said. "What do we do when we need a driver's licence. We show our faces."

"This is what Canada is all about. This is about respecting the people that we are welcoming and feeling respected too."

Candidate Michael Chong said a carbon tax would bring in enough revenue to introduce a multi-billion dollar income tax cut. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Several prominent candidates were absent from Sunday's debate, including reality TV star Kevin O'Leary and Kellie Leitch, whose controversial proposal to screen new immigrants for "Canadian values" has prompted criticism.

There are two remaining official leadership debates scheduled in the lead-up to May 27, when Conservatives will elect a new party leader.

On Saturday, the first debate drew 600 spectators as candidates went head-to-head on the topics of safe injection sites, two-tiered health-care systems, B.C.'s opioid crisis and Islamophobia.

The event, dubbed the Debate in the Valley by organizers, sold out a week in advance.

The events aren't official party debates, meaning attendance is not mandatory.

With a report from The Canadian Press