Politics

Tory leadership debate will be first with O’Leary

Candidates expected to talk about the economy and gang up on the TV star

The Westin Nova Scotia Hotel in Downtown Halifax where the debate will take place.   Geordie Summers-Lubar

On Saturday, 13 of the 14 people vying for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada will debate in Halifax. This will be the first debate to feature television personality Kevin O’Leary — who has emerged as a favourite ever since announcing his candidacy on Jan. 18. Up for grabs will be the votes of Nova Scotia conservatives, who will be congregating in Halifax this weekend for the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party’s annual general meeting.

Frank Parker, a political consultant at Crestview Strategies, says “Atlantic Canada is going to be extremely important in determining the next Conservative leader.” This is because no one has staked out their claim in the region yet, he says; candidates see Atlantic Canada as a place to pick up new supporters.

In December of 2016, the leadership candidates held a debate in Moncton where much of the topic of discussion was about jobs in Atlantic Canada, according to the CBC.

This weekend, Parker says, Nova Scotians may see more of the same. “The economy will be the main issue that everyone will talk about,” he says. “(It) will be a front and centre issue for every candidate.”

This debate may also be a more lively affair than the ones we have already seen in this leadership contest. So far, “the debates have been very dry, very few punches have been thrown,” says Parker. But Haligonians might see something different. “I think this weekend they’re all going to be throwing some punches.”

Much of the attention tomorrow may turn to Kevin O’Leary, who has been an outspoken critic of the Liberals and engages in twitter wars over topics like carbon pricing. O’Leary has already made political gaffes, including a video of himself shooting at a gun range — which his team posted on the day of the funeral for the victims of the Quebec City mosque attack.

“Make no mistake, the candidates are going to target him as much as they’re targeting the Trudeau government,” says Parker.

While O’Leary may be the man to beat nationally, the only candidate who will be able to claim home field advantage is Lisa Raitt. Although her riding is in southern Ontario, she grew up in Sydney, N.S. Raitt recently gained attention in Atlantic Canada by advocating to keep a supreme court seat for the Atlantic provinces.

Ipsos Reid recently published polling results showing that 42 per cent of respondents say they will vote for Kevin O’Leary to be the next conservative leader. Maxime Bernier, MP for Beauce, Quebec, was second with 13 per cent of respondents selecting him.

While the information published in this poll does give some insight into how the Canadian public feels about the different leadership candidates, it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of people who will actually vote in the leadership election.

To vote in the Conservative leadership election, one must be a member of the Conservative Party. And the rules in the Conservative Party elections, which involve a ranked ballot, tend to make it harder for contentious candidates to win.

Each riding is represented equally in the final leadership vote, so the candidates could see Atlantic Canada as an untapped place to grow their support base.

So this weekend, the candidates will be trying to pick up as many points from Atlantic Canada as possible. “The members are going to want to choose a candidate that they think can beat Trudeau,” Parker says. “So that’s what each candidate is going to be trying to show.”