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Poilievre, Lewis to be fined $50,000 each for not attending third official leadership debate


‘At the very beginning of these discussions, they were informed that this is an official debate and by extension, that their attendance is mandatory’

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The Conservative Party of Canada has confirmed that leadership candidates Pierre Poilievre and Leslyn Lewis will be fined $50,000 for refusing to attend a third official debate in Ottawa on Wednesday.

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“The rules of the race as set out by the Leadership Election Organizing Committee (LEOC) stipulate clearly that all officially designated debates are mandatory. There is an automatic fine provision laid out in the rules for anybody who chooses not to debate,” said Yaroslav Baran, the party’s spokesperson.

Rules adopted by LEOC stipulate that “failure to participate in a Party sanctioned debate shall result in an automatic $50,000 penalty” deducted from the $100,000 refundable compliance deposit requested as part of the candidates’ entry fee. Baran confirmed that would be the case.

“At the very beginning of these discussions, they were informed that this is an official debate and by extension, that their attendance is mandatory,” he added.

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Steve Outhouse, campaign manager for the Lewis campaign, said his team was “well aware of all potential scenarios” when discussing with party officials but said they had not been informed of a final decision related to Wednesday’s event. Poilievre’s team offered no comment.

Money, however, does not seem to be an issue these days for the leadership candidates.

The most recent fundraising numbers released by Elections Canada indicate that Poilievre raised more than $4 million in the second quarter alone, whereas Lewis gathered more than $700,000 in that same period according to the official statement.

And more money is on the way, since Poilievre and Lewis’ teams alleged that the party was behind in processing nearly $1.3 million and $600,000 of their donations, respectively.

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The party has already held two official debates with all candidates in May — one in English in Edmonton, Alberta, and one in French in Laval, Quebec — but reserved the right to hold a third and final debate during the summer.

The answer finally came near the end of July, after conducting a brief online poll with members.

Jenni Byrne, senior adviser of the Poilievre campaign, released a scathing letter criticizing the party’s decision to hold another debate “smack dab in the middle of the get out the vote period” and said the campaign’s main purpose was to get members to fill out their ballots.

“Pierre will be on the road again, without interruption, to help make that happen,” she wrote.

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As for Lewis, her campaign wrote in a letter that candidates were granted “only two weeks’ notice” to change their travel plans and cancel events with members, and criticized the party’s threat to fine them if they “didn’t cooperate with this sudden change of plans.”

Her team confirmed she would not be participating last week.

That leaves a debate with only three candidates — Jean Charest, Roman Baber and Scott Aitchison — for Wednesday night’s event. All three men will be in a studio, seated around a table and it will be “more of a conversational format” than an actual debate, described Baran.

The themes are expected to be around leadership, Indigenous peoples, transportation and climate change in the English segment, whereas the French segment is expected to focus on affordability, health care, rural Canada issues and the first 100 days of a new government.

Rob Batherson, the party’s president, will be moderating both segments in English and French. Each candidate will be asked the same question and given three minutes to respond.

It remains to be seen if candidates will focus on their respective platforms or if they will point out the elephant in the room — the fact that two of their colleagues are missing.

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