Tory leadership hopefuls square off in Vancouver, spar over environment, drugs

Tory leadership hopefuls square off in Vancouver

VANCOUVER — An unofficial Conservative leadership debate Sunday was a mostly cordial affair that only saw a few sharp exchanges, such as whether to scrap the Liberal government’s proposed carbon tax.

Michael Chong drew boos from a crowd of about 250 people for defending a revenue-neutral carbon tax as the cheapest and “most conservative” strategy to lower greenhouse gas emissions, warning about the political fallout to the Conservative party of not having a viable plan to tackle climate change.

“If we are going to win the next election we need to have a credible position to reduce emissions. If we do not have a credible plan to reduce emissions, we will lose,” he cautioned.

The debate was organized by a local riding association and hosted nine of the 14 people vying to lead the country’s official Opposition.

Several prominent candidates were absent, including reality TV star Kevin O’Leary and Ontario MP Kellie Leitch.

Former Conservative veterans affairs minister Erin O’Toole chided Chong for his carbon-tax proposal, saying, “I’m not in this race to out-Liberal the Liberals.”

Andrew Saxton added to the criticism, predicting such a tax would kill jobs and undermine the competitiveness of Canadian companies.

“As prime minister of Canada, I will axe the tax,”  the former British Columbia MP said to cheers from the audience.

“We have to have a harmonized plan with the United States in order to have an effective way to bring down greenhouse gases.”

The Conservative party has organized five official debates, where candidates are fined for failing to show up. Vancouver’s event was the second of two, unofficial, back-to-back leadership debates in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, following the previous day’s rally in Langley.

Another point of contention that arose during the weekend was when O’Toole butted heads with MP Lisa Raitt over the best way to address youth unemployment. He proposed offering them a tax break.

Raitt countered with a proposal that would requiring companies to include a youth employment strategy in their business plan in order to compete for public infrastructure projects.

“If you don’t have a job, you’re not creating any income to actually get those tax breaks from,” Raitt said. “So, let’s make sure we get the jobs for people.

Drugs were another central topic during Sunday’s debate. British Columbia is ground zero in Canada’s opioid crisis, with more than 900 illicit overdose deaths across the province last year alone, and candidates were asked to weigh in on the situation.

Former immigration minister Chris Alexander accused the Liberal government of failing to act decisively in response to the fentanyl crisis.

Saskatchewan MP Brad Trost advocated a three-pronged approach: technology to keep prescription drugs safe, collaboration with other countries to pinch off drug supply and more resources for law enforcement and border security.

“If we had this many people dying from a terrorist incident, this would be the number one issue for the government of Canada,” he added.

Two official debates remain in the lead-up to May 27, when Conservatives will elect a new party leader. One will take place in Edmonton later this month and a location for the fifth has yet to be announced.

— Follow @gwomand on Twitter

Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Update: Two West Kelowna homes gutted by fire

Family cat saved by firefighters

Ash falling in the Okanagan

Reports on social media of ashes on cars around the Okanagan

Temporary smoke relief in sight for Kelowna

Kelowna is expected to see a break in smoke until tomorrow afternoon

Kelowna developer warns home buyers to look at more than the price tag

Kelowna developer Jeffrey Anderson wants first-time homeowners to look at more than the price tag.

Canadian Armed Forces assist with mop-up of fire near West Kelowna

100 Armed Forces members are helping BC Wildfire crews with the Gottfriedson Mountain fire

B.C. wildfires 2018: Hazy skies impacting crews in spotting new fires

18,000 people are on an evacuation alert, with 3,000 homes under an evacuation order

Snowy Mountain fire travelling away from communities

The Snowy Mountain fire near Keremeos remains at 13,359 hectares in size

Minister optimistic after 2 days of Columbia River Treaty negotiations

Canadian and U.S. officials met in Nelson Wednesday and Thursday to discuss future of the treaty

Man dies in B.C. police cell while awaiting court hearing

An independent investigation is underway after a man died while in Penticton police custody Aug. 16

RCMP appeal for tips, dashcam footage in German tourist shooting west of Calgary

The Durango crashed into the ditch after the shooting near the Goodstoney Rodeo Centre

2 nurses attacked at B.C. psych hospital, union calls for in-unit security

PHSA says that in-unit guards would do more harm than good

Former Shuswap optician won’t be jailed for sexually assaulting minor

Kenneth Pilkington sentenced to 24 months’ probation for offence three decades ago

Osland to make LPGA Tour debut

Kelowna’s Megan Osland has earned an exemption into next week’s CP Women’s Open in Regina.

Red Cross now accepting donations for those impacted by B.C. wildfires

The Canadian Red Cross is asking for help now and in the weeks and months ahead.

Most Read