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LN Feature: Leadership Debate


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LN: This is not meant so much to be a “debate” between the three of you as it is an opportunity for each of you to address a primarily social conservative audience one last time before these people fill out their ballots. I’m going to be asking each of you one question to lead off; a different question for each of you. In each instance the focus of the question will be designed to allow you to address a perceived weakness in your messaging or your campaign.

To be clear, I’m not trying to set a negative tone, but rather, to give everyone a chance to address the “negatives” that are out there. Each of the other candidates will have a chance for a quick response to the answers you give.

We’ll do this in reverse alphabetical order, starting with Brad Trost.

Brad, you’ve arguably been the most outspoken leadership candidate on social conservative issues. I’ve heard your approach described as “leading with your chin” on these things. Putting out pro-active statements, for example, that you would never be seen marching in a gay pride parade. I suspect many of our listeners would be with you on that, but the question this raises is one of broader electability. If you were to win the leadership, how would you be able to sell yourself – and the Party – to a broader Canadian electorate which is generally a lot more liberal on these social issues?

Trost: Well, I think the very clear answer to that is you look at places like Toronto. Former Mayor Rob Ford there, he didn’t have electoral problems because he refused to march in a gay pride parade; because he was opposed to running up the LGBT flag. Those are things which actually helped him. He had problems because of his substance abuse issue. If you look at Canada, we have 33 ridings where visible minorities are the majority. The Conservatives hold two of those seats. Every single one of those ridings is very strongly socially conservative. This is one thing that has to be understood. The political commentary class in this country is heavily upper-middle class, downtown social liberals. They do not reflect the fifty thousand a year new Canadians from the Philippines that are coming into Canada. They’re not rural Canada. Look, we didn’t win a single seat in the New Brunswick Bible belt – the four seats around St John’s – last time. Social conservatism can actually help build our Party and bring voters in. It’s not the CBC which influences people’s opinion now. It’s their own cultural and social groups. That’s why I actually believe in my heart of hearts – and I’ve proven this in the campaign – (that) a strong social conservative message can bring people to our side. It’s worked on other issues such as the gun registry, which people thought was an absolute loser for our Party, and it can work on these issues too.

LN: Responses? We’ll start with Andrew Scheer.

Scheer: Well, first of all I want to say that I respect both Brad and Pierre, and I think that they are being very consistent in what they advocate. And it’s a good thing for the Party that we have people like them. I believe that some of the approaches that Brad and Pierre have taken will be difficult to implement, and will not be reflective of where the Conservative caucus is, but there are a lot of things that they are talking about. So for me, I’ve always been trying to find that common ground between all the different kind of Conservatives and say “look, of all the things that social conservatives believe in, of all the things that we fight for, what are the ones that enjoy the broadest support within our own movement – within our own Party, within our own caucus, and that have the greatest chances of electoral success?” And let’s work together on those. Let’s achieve some of the things that we all agree on, and get some boxes ticked. So I’ve been advocating for many issues that are very important to social conservatives. I appreciate what Brad and Pierre are doing as well, and I hope the members consider that there are different approaches to try to get to the same goal.

LN: Pierre, your response to Brad’s answer?

Lemieux: I think Conservative members – particularly those with social conservative values, those with faith-based values, and those that respect life – I think they’re looking for a leader who will lead on these issues, and not just be passive, or not even talk about those issues. These are issues that are fundamentally important to these Conservative members and as I’ve crossed the country what I’ve been saying is that there are millions and millions of people who are socially conservative, who have faith-based values, and who respect life from the moment of conception through to natural death. And we have a rightful place within Canada. We have a rightful place within the Conservative Party of Canada. And we need leadership – positive leadership – on these issues. And I’ve been just so positive in my messaging in saying that, you know, our party needs these people – social conservatives, faith-based, and life issue people – in our party. And in fact, if they’re not in our party, our party’s too small. So I see the need to address these issues in a very positive, embracing way that will lead to a stronger party that leads to a stronger Canada, and I just see all the positive aspects of that and that’s why my campaigning has been so positive on these fundamentally important issues all the way across Canada and all throughout my campaign.

LN: OK. Next question. To Mr. Scheer. The biggest criticism I hear from social conservatives about you – and Pierre kind of just articulated it, quietly – is that you’re too much like Stephen Harper on social policy. That yes, you’ve got a good pro-life voting record, and that your heart’s in the right place, but that – in a marked contrast to both Pierre and especially Brad – you’ve been too quiet on the abortion issue for example. It seems some of that has been deliberate. Even at your initial campaign launch, you downplayed the pro-life credentials for the national press. And for some people, this begs the question…if you’re not prepared to speak out on these things now, in a pro-active way, why should folks trust you on these issues if you become the leader? Patrick Brown comes to mind, right? How do you respond to that?

Scheer: I would reject the premise of parts of – certainly aspects of – the question. I’ve never downplayed my pro-life voting record. I’ve never downplayed my personal beliefs. I indicated in the launch that we have party policy that our members have crafted – that our members have put in – that indicates where the party as a government, not as the party itself, but as the government, would handle these issues. And I pointed to that. And then I very quickly pointed to my strong belief that every Member of Parliament has to have the right to articulate their views. I agree with what Pierre said; that we have to be the party that welcomes social conservatives. And not just welcomes them for their vote or for their money or for their membership, but welcomes them for their contribution and the ability for them to speak out on issues that are important or to propose legislation. And to always consider the fact that we have a diverse caucus; a diverse group of MPs with different points of view on many of these types of issues. And, contrary to Pierre’s point, yes there’s a difference between having leadership and understanding that there’s a diverse view in caucus. And a leader leads, but also leads in those areas where there’s the highest amount of common ground; where there’s the highest amount of overlap between all the different Conservatives. We saw that in the previous government, when we raised the age of consent from 14 to 16, when we cracked down on human trafficking, all our family-friendly tax cuts. And you, I’ve walked the walk on this; I’ve spoken out when Morgentaler got the Order of Canada, I’ve had a 100% pro-life voting record. I think that’s the difference between someone like myself and Maxime Bernier because he’s a libertarian and, you know, he has said some similar things about free votes which is also in our party constitution – our party policy – but his voting record shows that his beliefs aren’t there. So my pitch to social conservatives is that with me, you have a leader that values the contribution, that wants to find the areas of greatest success of achieving things.

Trost: Look, I think from Brad’s perspective – this is Brad speaking here – here’s the problem. Andrew’s gonna suffer the exact same attacks that Pierre and I are gonna suffer. Except the accusation is gonna be that he has a hidden agenda. I agree with the preamble completely. Andrew’s heart is absolutely in the right place. But the opposition and the Liberals – if he becomes leader – will go back and pull up his speech in the House of Commons on gay marriage where he referred to it as an abomination…

Scheer: Now, now…

Trost: Absolutely solid, wonderful speech. Excellent on everything he said. But this is the thing. If you don’t stand for your convictions, people actually are going to read into things – both good and bad into it – and you actually don’t get the political benefit. Again, I think Andrew’s heart is in the right place, but to do this for a political strategy is gonna be for no benefit, and also it’s gonna make it harder to inspire our base to get out there and work really hard, and bring in those new social conservatives who are new immigrants to Canada.

Lemieux: So let me just jump in here – this is Pierre speaking – and let me just say, you know, I have a much more positive approach to life issues. They are a strength of Canadians. They are a strength of faith-based Canadians and social conservatives. And, you know, having a good pro-life voting record – even a perfect one – is good. That’s very good. But that’s looking backwards. This is a leadership race, and we need leadership looking forward. And that’s why, in my leadership campaign, I’ve been saying that I will address life issues. Not just value the contributions of (pro)-life members, but I mean as leader we can move ahead on life issues that are supported by Canadians. Let me give you an example. Sex-selective abortion is the ultimate discrimination against girls, because it takes the lives of unborn baby girls just because they are girls. This is a grave injustice. This is also a policy; that it be banned. This is a Conservative policy, passed by Conservative members. But it’s also widely supported by Canadians. Ninety percent of Canadians want sex-selective abortion in Canada banned. They are opposed to sex-selective abortion. And so we need leadership on this, and not leadership that says “I will entertain the discussion”, or leadership that says “well, I may wait for a Private Member’s Bill that may or may not come forward”, but leadership that says “with the support of the majority of Canadians – in this case 90% are adamantly opposed to sex-selective abortion – we need some leadership that says you know what? I will address this issue. It’s a fundamental injustice.” And the other one is unborn victims of crime. When a pregnant woman is the victim of a violent assault – a criminal assault – and her unborn baby dies, Canadian law does not recognize that her baby was taken from her. This is a grave injustice. Canadians know this, and they say that this has to be rectified. And again, not with a Private Member’s Bill. What we need is leadership on this, and I’ve committed to putting in front of Parliament government legislation to say “this is such a grave injustice, this lack of recognition where Canadian law says to a pregnant woman ‘your baby did not exist. We do not recognize that you were carrying a baby’. And we’re only going to charge the perpetrator with assault or with murder against the mother. That’s it.” They want this addressed, and I’m offering up very positive leadership that says “this brings Canadians together”. This is positive leadership. This is looking forward and saying we need a government bill to address this, and that’s what I’m offering as leader of the Conservative Party and as future Prime Minister of Canada.

LN: OK, that leads into the final question in terms of the main ones, and this one’s for Pierre. You’ve been very vocal on stuff like M-103, Bill C-16, and other issues. But the knock I’m hearing against Pierre Lemieux is that you’re simply not well-known enough. A nice guy, not even a current Member of Parliament. (I recognize that some of this would solve itself if you were to become leader; there’s obviously a certain amount of name recognition that comes with the position.) But the case could be made that in politics, name recognition is closely tied to credibility. By that measure, how credible is your campaign; can we seriously even expect you to place in the top 5 after the first ballot? And does that matter?

Lemieux: You know, these are great questions, and I’m looking forward to answering them. The first is, you know we really have to question that name recognition is tied to credibility. Which candidate in this race had the most recognizable name? Kevin O’Leary. And does that mean he’s credible, especially when it comes to issues that are important to social conservatives? Absolutely not. And which Canadian politician has the most name recognition in our country? Justin Trudeau. And none of us running for leadership would say “he has credibility.” So, what I’m seeing as I cross the country are people – lots of people, sometimes standing room only attending my events – every day I’m doing an event, all across our country, and people are rejuvenated, they’re energized, and their faith in politics (and politicians, actually, both), is rejuvenated because of my presentation. Because they go “we just haven’t heard politicians talking like you, and giving presentations like that.” Like positive leadership looking forward that brings people together. And so yes, I definitely have credibility, and I have credibility because of my messaging, and I have credibility because of my strength of character; because of my integrity, and because I’m showing leadership on difficult issues. Will I finish in the top five? Absolutely. I am planning to finish even than higher than in the top five. And you know, I want to give you a metric. They’re going to be releasing the fundraising totals very shortly from the last quarter. My campaign doubled the amount of money it took in from the previous quarter. So in the last quarter, it doubled the amount of fundraising from the previous quarter, and the number of donors – here’s the most important thing – the number of donors quadrupled. I don’t think any other campaign’s going to come close to quadrupling the number of donors. And what does that tell you? People are reaching into their pockets to support my campaign because they believe in it, because they like it, and because they want to see me as leader. So absolutely, we have momentum. My campaign has momentum. People, especially social conservatives, people with faith-based values. and those who love freedom of speech – because freedom of speech is essential to being able to express our values and express ourselves on the things that are important to us. So my campaign has momentum. We’re looking for a strong finish, and we’re gonna have very strong metrics published in the upcoming week.

LN: OK. Responses to that. Andrew, let’s start with you.

Scheer: Sure. Well, let me just say that I congratulate Pierre. He has run a very positive campaign, and I think that when people in the rooms that he’s at – certainly the ones I’ve been in when we’re at debates and forums – do appreciate the tone that he approaches these things (with). Sometimes Conservatives, in general and certainly social conservatives, do run the risk of getting tarred with always being negative and always being against things, and I’ve always thought that it’s much more effective for all kinds of Conservatives – but especially social conservatives – to talk about the things that we’re for in a much more positive way. And you know, just to address a couple of things, I have shown leadership on these issues.  When I was Speaker of the House of Commons I had a very important ruling upholding the rights of backbench MPs to speak without having to go through their party bosses and their party leaders, and that’s tangible evidence of the type of leadership that I’ve provided on things. And I like what I’m hearing from Pierre about protecting free speech. I’ve got a policy that will withhold federal funding from universities that don’t foster a climate of free speech. Universities that don’t allow pro-life campus clubs or un-invite people from speaking. And this is in stark contrast to Maxime Bernier, who voted in favour of C-16; the transgender identity bill that Jordan Peterson at the University of Toronto is fighting. So I hope that Pierre would agree with my free speech policy. I know Brad agrees with my policy to give independent school choice. I think he came out with a very similar policy soon after I did, allowing for parents who put their children in independent schools – to make sure that their values can be passed on – (to) receive a tax credit for their tuition. So I’m really thankful for this kind of discussion because I think we all have different tactic – you know, we all have different beliefs on how best to communicate these values, but I think we’re all trying to find those areas where a Conservative government in 2019 can realistically run on a campaign and a platform (and) get elected, and then implement it, knowing that the other parties likely won’t support many of the things that we’re putting forward.

LN: Brad, your response to Pierre’s answer?

Trost: I think one of the things people need to understand in this leadership race is it’s not a first-past-the-post system. There’s no vote splitting. Votes can go on and roll forward. So here’s the wonderful thing about this. If you like all three of us, you can vote for all of us, and then you can build momentum. You don’t have to worry about compromising for who can win at the end and worry about – you know – you can’t vote for something (out) of your conviction. It’s the old argument: “well, if I vote Christian Heritage Party I will hurt the Conservatives winning.” That doesn’t apply on this. So because of the way the system works, you can vote 110% for your conscience for your first choice, and your second choice, and if you need to on your third, or fourth, or fifth – whatever. You can start to move strategically and tactically. So this is the thing I think people have got to understand. Maybe Pierre doesn’t have name recognition or whatever. Maybe other candidates don’t either, but you can vote 100% your conscience on your first vote and then keep rolling forward. If none of the three of us win, someone is going to go back and see “how strong are the social conservatives?” And that is also gonna be an important thing to have as a marker in the ground for people who are social conservatives. So you don’t need to worry about voting tactically, you can vote your heart. And then on your third or fourth ballot – or whatever – you can then start to vote strategically. So name recognition is not a major thing.

Lemieux: Well let me just say, Brad, I do have name recognition. The people listening to this show…

Trost: I’m not saying you don’t, Pierre. I’m not saying you don’t. I’m just…

Lemieux: No no, hold on. Hold on. What I’m saying though is that – for example – the people listening to this show – the people listening to Lighthouse (News) – they know about me. And so do other Canadians all across our country.

Scheer: And I just want to give support to something that Brad said. I think it’s very important for voters – members – in this race to fill out a complete ballot. If only ones are put down – if members only say “well I’m only going to vote for this person on the first ballot, then I’m not gonna mark or a second or a third or a fourth even”, then we run the risk of having someone get elected who is not going to welcome social conservatives or who is going to just pay lip service; and then count on them for the election and then not really do anything. And Maxime Bernier, at every opportunity that he’s had to stand in the House of Commons, has voted against pro-life legislation; he voted in favour of C-16, so I think for social conservatives wondering what to do, Brad is absolutely right. Fill out that ballot as best that their conscience dictates, as best as they feel is best for the party and for the issues that they care about. But that they should fill out a complete ballot. Otherwise, they won’t have a say as different dynamics change on each ballot. They won’t have an opportunity to get the person who is most open and most welcoming to people like them.

Lemieux: So let me make one last comment on the ballot if I could. When people get their ballot, they should absolutely put Pierre Lemieux first. What a breath of fresh air that would be. Wouldn’t that be great for the party, and wouldn’t that be great for Canada? Thank you.

(assorted laughter)

LN: Alright guys, I gotta ask one wrap-up question here. There’s 10 slots to fill out on the ranked ballot, and we all know that the people on this conference call are kind of the geeks and we’re watching this, but the average party member goes “yeah, I got the top three or the top five, and it’s probably Brad and Andrew and Pierre, but what do I do down-ballot?” Very quick answers. Who else would you recommend aside from the three of you? And Andrew, we’ll start with you.

Scheer: Well you know this is probably the hardest question to ask leadership candidates who are still finishing the race strong, obviously asking for first-ballot support. I honestly think that it’s up to each and every individual. You know, we’ve all had – in my case 8 months – to put out my policies to answer the tough questions. I’ve got video clips up on my website. I’m sure all the other candidates do. I believe that Conservative members are highly engaged and that they’re taking the time to go through and read and look and make those decisions. I would never presume to instruct or suggest how other people should vote. I believe that Brad is absolutely right. In this type of preferential ballot, they can really let their heart guide them, or their discernment, or their prudence or their wisdom, because they can fill that ballot out. As long as they’re marking choices they will have a say in who is ultimately successful so…You know, social conservatives put a higher priority on some issues over others, and recognize that there are some issues that are more pressing, that are immediate. You know, like conscience rights for medical practitioners as it comes to euthanasia. So my only suggestion – my only direction – my encouragement, for all members of the Conservative Party is to take the time, go through the policies, go through the track records, and fill out that ballot and put down as many choices as you can to make sure that your issues are going to be represented with the next leader of our party.

LN: OK, that’s a nice philosophical answer, but you didn’t give me any names. Pierre?

Lemieux: (Laughs) So let me just say, you know, I think what’s important is we are each running our own campaigns. And I am certainly running my own campaign. A campaign that is unique to me, and a campaign that is focused on a wide policy platform, including highlighting the fundamental importance of people with social conservative values, with faith-based values, and with life values to the health of our party and to the health of our country. And you know, there are no deals, there are no arrangements, and instead. Like, I’ve never communicated to anyone who my second or third choice will be. Instead, I firmly believe that it is for the candidates themselves to win the trust, respect, and support of Conservative members. Primarily by speaking to their issues in a positive and credible manner. And I believe that people with social conservative values, faith-based values, and life values – they want a leader who values the strength of these convictions, and who will lead on them. And I think they’re well-informed. I think they know how to make their decision in terms of how far they can go down their ballot, and who they should put first, second, third, etcetera…

LN: OK. Again, no names. Brad, are you going to break the trend here and give me at least one other name people can vote for aside from the three in this room?

Trost: Well, I’ll give a bit more specific instructions here on this one. Rather than always taking candidates at their exact words, go look at some independent organizations. We Need a Law has its ratings,** Campaign Life Coalition does excellent things like this. Look, other candidates – of whom I am endorsing none – I mean, everyone knows I’m voting for Pierre as second, I’ve said that openly and unapologetically, these organizations have some very good details. Things sometimes do surprise you. For the record, and I’m not endorsing Maxime Bernier here, but he has called for the repeal of C-16. I think – and I’d have to double-check on this – I think Steven Blaney actually came out in opposition to overseas funding for abortion. So there’s other things in this leadership race for your fourth or fifth candidate. I’m trying to think; there’s another candidate who came out backing my position to make Canada the most friendly country in the world (on) adoption – I think it was Peterson, could have been Saxton, one of those two. Go and research those sort of issues and go look up to see if they’re part of who and what you want to be in your voting. But rather than take a candidate’s word for something, go find one of these independent sites; Campaign Life, Real Women, they’re all out there and they have really good information.

LN: And to that we would.

Scheer: eh…I…

LN: Go ahead, sorry?

Scheer: If I could sneak one in under the wire, I do agree with Brad, and I think voting records are very important. Maxime voted in favour of C-16, and in the previous Parliament he voted against Stephen Woodworth’s motion; not even wanting to have the issue discussed. So, you know, Maxime’s voting record is very clear and some of the things he’s talking about he’s only talked about in this leadership race. And so that is important. It’s the whole package. I think Brad’s right, they should go and look at other groups that they’re part of. Right Now has their suggestion out as well, but that also has to be put in a context of past action. So it’s important to look at the complete package.

LN: Gentlemen, Pierre’s got a plane to catch. We’re running out of time. I was going to give time for closing statements, but I think everybody has a pretty good sense of where you all stand. Thank you all so much for doing this.

Lemieux: Thank you so much Al, really appreciate this opportunity. Thank you.

Scheer: Thank you.

Trost: Have a good one.

**  Mr. Trost misspoke here.  WeNeedaLaw.ca does not have any ranking of candidates in the leadership race. The other organizations mentioned in the interview do.

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