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Don Martin: This is the candidate who stole the show in my view

The abortion question was dealt with in less time than the revelations about the candidate’s favorite music and the book they are currently reading.

We also learned their most binge-worthy television series, their personal hero and which historical figure those vying to become a future Conservative prime minister would want to join them for dinner.

Controversial defining issues like supply management, no-fly zones over Ukraine, massive defence spending boosts and immigration were all dispatched in the "lightning round" of "yes" or "no" answers while yesterday stories like the Freedom Convoy and vaccine mandates hogged the spotlight.

It wasn’t until closing statements that the youth-preoccupation of affordable housing was raised as a focus of concern for Conservative party’s leadership candidates on Wednesday night.

No wonder a party diehard in my four-person focus group adjourned to her patio after half an hour, the better to take in the warmest May 11 evening in Ottawa in more than 100 years.

There’s no debating this was, as moderator Tom Clark described it, “challenging.”

Far from giving candidates the latitude to compare and contrast their positions, they were shoehorned into soundbites with strictly-enforced time limits. You simply can’t beat a clock which divides one minute into multiple answers from competing candidates and expect a vote-swaying answer from anybody.

It was, for those forced to watch out of party loyalty, morbid political curiosity or a journalistic paycheque, a jaw-dropping disappointment guaranteed to prevent voters disenchanted with the Trudeau Liberals from rushing inside the true-blue Conservative tent.

But, then again, was it any worse than a debate where candidates jump for the jugular, shrieking a soundtrack of liar allegations, fabricated policy positions or embellishing the failures on their rival’s resume?

Perhaps, if the goal was to discourage discussions from the constant quest for a knockout blow for the campaign ads, all that’s left to make a show of it are game show questions.

So let’s try to make something of substance from very little and look at how did they did in Edmonton, if you weren’t distracted by the lousy audio or busily vibrating blue-wave background.

Pierre Poilievre dropped news on his opening statement by pledging to fire the Bank of Canada governor and replace him with someone who would "reinstate our low inflation mandate”, whatever his increasingly-alarming intervention actually means.

But after that he was stoic by his usual high-octane standards, muzzling himself from the caustic quips and trying to appear almost, gulp, prime ministerial.


Veteran Tory Jean Charest still can't shake loose from his 1995 national unity superstar moment to deliver an updated campaign narrative.

He keeps warning the country is on the verge of imploding on itself and appears spitting mad even when there seems to be very little justification for his fury.

Patrick Brown, who dodged the unofficial debate last week, seemed more formidable when he wasn’t there. The thought of him selling thousands of memberships while his rivals wasted a night in front of already-committed Conservatives seemed to suggest a potential upset was in the making.

But seeing him reduced to a limp uninspiring figure on the stage suggests the odds of him thwarting the Poilievre coronation are remote.

Leslyn Lewis seemed to stumble more than usual, but did no harm to her campaign as the only anti-abortion candidate on the stage.

Ironically, one of the two nobodies, a cottage country Ontario MP named Scott Aitchison, stole the show in my view.

He cannot win, of course, but his pragmatic positions, party unity pledge and sense of humour made him shine on a stage of uninspiring hopefuls.

As for moderator Tom Clark, he had his hands full keeping track of paddles being waved by those who wanted to speak and a countdown clock ticking down in 15-second increments while silencing crowd reactions.

He was so ruthlessly efficient with time control and keeping order with his trombone-bleating buzzer, he finished the event ten minutes early.

That, sadly, was a debate highlight.

That’s the bottom line.

Replay the live blog from the debate below:





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