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Most memorable

Kevin O’Leary just can’t keep deficits and debt straight

Here are the most memorable lines from the latest Conservative leadership debate

On Saturday, the crowded field of candidates vying for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada took to the stage in Halifax to debate the same stable of topics they’ve hashed through in three debates already: The much-maligned federal carbon price, job creation, and healthcare.

The 14-candidate field now includes businessman and reality star Kevin O’Leary, and came a day after new figures showed again that libertarian-minded Quebec MP Maxime Bernier is pulling away from the pack in fundraising. He pulled in more than $550,000 in 2016, two-thirds more than his closest rival.

We’ve selected the best moments from the debate from the candidates, in their own words.

Kevin O’Leary:

In some of these countries, law is just a concept. I have a very hard time criticizing our justice system or the men and women that enforce it in our country, when every time I come home I want to kiss the ground.

Lisa Raitt:

If the girls are coming forward and talking about an assault that happened to them, then we need to ensure that our front line have the best training there is, so they can understand the frailty of the victim that they’re dealing with.


Illustration by Ethan Tennier-Stuart

As most candidates suggested bringing back mandatory minimums sentences for a host of crimes — and slammed the court for repealing unconstitutional tough-on-crime measures the previous Conservative government introduced — O’Leary said, given how bad things can be elsewhere worldwide, he didn’t have much to suggest for the Canadian system.

Raitt, meanwhile, picked up on an extensive investigation run by the Globe & Mail that looked at how a startling number of sexual assault complaints were marked as ‘unfounded.’ She cited the report as a reason to beef up training, education, and reporting around sexual assault in the criminal justice system. The Cape Breton-born Ontario MP was considered a front-runner out of the gate, but her campaign hasn’t exactly broken through the noise. While she launched later than many competitors, her fundraising has been below many of the others — pulling in just $180,000 in 2016.

Andrew Saxton:

If I had four economists supporting my economic plan, I’d go back to the drawing board and re-write it. When was the last time you saw a wealthy economist? I mean, really. They’re in their ivory towers sipping their tea and coffee, and talking about theory, not practise. The carbon tax doesn’t work.

Kevin O’Leary:

We already have a shining example of why all this green initiative doesn’t work on a tax base: It’s called the province of Ontario. $308 billion in deficit, much of it because of failed green policies. No, no carbon tax is necessary.


Illustration by Ethan Tennier-Stuart

Saxton, the twice-elected Member of Parliament for North Vancouver who lost his seat by a 30-point margin in 2015, hasn’t registered on any of the polls taken of the Conservative field since the beginning of the campaign. He’s also raised just north of $130,000, which puts him in the back of the pack.

He, like almost every candidate in the field, is hell-bent on repealing the federal carbon price, which he and the others refer to as a carbon tax. But the mantra of “the carbon tax doesn’t work” isn’t quite accurate. A 2015 study on the British Columbia carbon tax, which has been in place since 2008, concludes that CO2 emissions have dropped somewhere between five and 15 percent since then, while having “negligible effects on aggregate economic performance.” Quebec, meanwhile, has gone for a cap-and-trade system that has diverted millions into green programs, although it’s not clear what impact it’s had on emissions.

A good number of candidates on the stage have already decried Ontario’s carbon-pricing scheme as a disaster, despite the fact that it has only been in force for a month.

Meanwhile, O’Leary has confused deficit and debt — again. Ontario has a $308 billion debt, with a deficit just north of $5 billion.

And the idea that green programs are behind the high debt load is way off the mark. Environmental and clean energy programs account for less than one percent of Ontario’s annual budget.

Kellie Leitch:

“I want to make sure that women don’t go to jail because they were defending themselves.”

Leitch’s core platform plan in terms of criminal justice, or at least the only part she’s announced thus far, appears to be allow women to carry and use mace and pepper spray.

Illustration by Ethan Tennier-Stuart

Justifying the plan at the debate, Leitch suggested it would stop women from being arrested after defending themselves against their attacker. Leitch doesn’t appear to have done much research on the matter, however.

Pepper spray is, indeed, a prohibited weapon in Canada — and there are literally hundreds of court cases dealing with its use. In the vast majority of cases, pepper spray was used in robberies or assaults, according to a search of legal database CanLii, which largely deals with court of appeal and higher court cases. Very few involve pepper spray being used in self-defence — in one case involving bear mace being used in self-defence, which is admittedly not a prohibited weapon, a judge acquitted the accused of all charges.

Leitch’s tactics, believed to be largely drawn-up by her now-departed campaign manager Nick Kouvalis, have worked relatively well. She’s pulled in more than $355,000 in 2016, helped by the fact that she was the first to begin fundraising.

Deepak Obhrai:

“Sharia law, as I’ve stated, has no place in this country. So let’s forget that debate. Close it. It’s not important. Let’s get onto the most important issue, the threat is homegrown terrorism: Either being islamic radicalization or it being white supremacist.”

Steven Blaney:

“I want to share something very Christian coming from a Muslim, from an imam: ‘We must forgive but we must not hatred to hatred, but we have to clean our soul and watch our words which fuel hatred.”

Obhrai has been quick to call out xenophobic rhetoric from his fellow candidates, especially following a terror attack in Quebec City claimed six lives, while Blaney’s own philosophy appears to have shifted in recent days.

While he spent part of the debate on Saturday lamenting the more bombastic rhetoric, Blaney had spent much of the race so far extolling the virtues of banning the niqab for voters and public servants, telling reporters that while he supports immigration: “We don’t want our country to become like the country they left.”

The two long-time MPs might not even make it to election day, however, thanks to weak fundraising. Blaney, who pulled in less than $100,000 last year, lagged behind Obhrai’s $108,000.

Cover: Andre Vaughan/The Canadian Press

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