Poilievre, Lewis officially out of third Conservative debate

Pierre Poilievre and Leslyn Lewis, two of the most prominent contenders for the Conservative leadership, won’t be taking part in the party’s final official debate.

Debate will be half French, half English and feature only three candidates

Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre gestures towards Jean Charest as Roman Baber, left, Scott Aitchison and Leslyn Lewis, right, look on during a debate at the Canada Strong and Free Network conference in Ottawa on May 5, 2022. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Two of the most prominent contenders for the Conservative leadership won't be taking part in the party's final official debate.

Conservative officials have confirmed that Pierre Poilievre and Leslyn Lewis have told party officials they won't attend the August 3 debate in Ottawa.

That leaves Jean Charest, Roman Baber and Scott Aitchison to hash it out for 90 minutes on Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET.

Under party rules, both Poilievre and Lewis now have to pay an automatic $50,000 penalty for skipping an official debate. Both had made it known already that they were unhappy with the decision to arrange a third debate.

Poilievre's senior adviser Jenni Byrne released a statement last week saying the party's first official debate in Edmonton was "widely recognized as an embarrassment" and heaping blame on the party for its choice of moderator and format.

Byrne wrote that since the time for signing up new members is now over, Poilievre needs to be on the road "without interruption" getting members to fill out their ballots. She mocked Charest, saying he needed Poilievre's participation in the debate in order to draw an audience.

Lewis, meanwhile, publicly shared a letter she had sent to the Conservatives' leadership committee. In it, Lewis claimed she had received no information about the debate format and that she had told the party she would not be available on the date set for the event.

She asked the committee whether the debate would tackle "the usual questions" about pipelines and budgets or instead take on issues she said she hears about from Conservatives every day — such as calls for an inquiry into Canada's pandemic response and concerns about the World Economic Forum.

The Conservative Party held an online vote asking members to weigh in on whether a third debate was warranted. It said there was an "overwhelming consensus" in favour of the debate, which it bills as a "key opportunity" to help members decide who should lead the party.

The party began sending out ranked ballots to members earlier this month and approximately 80,000 already have been returned, said a party spokesperson.

Patrick Brown's name appears on that ballot, despite his disqualification by officials on July 5 over what the party's leadership committee called "serious allegations of wrongdoing" relating to campaign financing.

Charest suggests Poilievre deserves some 'freedom'

Charest's campaign used the upcoming debate as an opportunity to mock Poilievre.

In the hours before the party confirmed the Carleton MP would not be participating in the debate, Charest's campaign released an online video with the caption "It's time to #FreePierre" — apparently a riff on Poilievre's campaign theme of freedom.

Conservatives have until Sept 6 at 5 pm ET to mail the envelope containing their ballots. The winner will be announced on Sept 10.


Catherine Cullen

Senior reporter

Catherine Cullen covers Parliament Hill for CBC News in Ottawa. She writes frequently about the Conservative Party. She has also worked in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal.

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