Conservative Party leadership hopeful Kevin O’Leary says he won’t participate in an upcoming debate in Edmonton, calling the format “terrible.”
O’Leary, who has participated in several debates since officially joining the race in mid-January, announced his intention to pull out of Tuesday night’s event after his push to change the format fell on deaf ears.
The bilingual Edmonton debate is the last one scheduled to take place before Conservative Party members elect a new leader to permanently replace Stephen Harper on May 27.
According to O’Leary, all but one other candidate agreed that having all 14 hopefuls on stage answering one question at a time “with no back and forth” was not the best way to approach the debate.
Instead, the businessman’s camp proposed a format for Edmonton that mirrored the one at the Manning Centre Conference held in Ottawa over the weekend, where four candidates at a time were chosen at random to come up on stage and engage in a debate that emphasized rebuttals.
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“I am obviously disappointed,” O’Leary said of the Conservative Party’s decision to stick to the original plan.
“I will still be in Edmonton on Tuesday, speaking directly with members at an intimate fireside discussion, and I look forward to taking members’ questions.”
Fellow candidate Lisa Raitt reacted to O’Leary’s decision on Twitter Monday morning, calling him a “chicken.”
Another candidate, Rick Peterson, questioned O’Leary’s assertion that nearly all the candidates agreed with him that the format should change.
“I call B.S.,” Peterson tweeted.
In a statement issued Monday afternoon, candidate Chris Alexander called O’Leary’s decision a “stunt.”
“O’Leary has yet to attend a single Conservative Party of Canada-sanctioned debate — and his latest stunt means he will miss Edmonton tomorrow. This is not the behaviour of a candidate who is serious about leading a party.”
The debate is scheduled to take place on Tuesday at 6 p.m. MT at Edmonton’s Maclab Theatre.
O’Leary’s participation in the leadership debates has been the subject of controversy for months. He was accused of trying to avoid French debates by joining the race in early 2017, the day after a French language debate was held. O’Leary said he is working hard on his French.
Earlier this month, candidate Deepak Obhrai challenged O’Leary to a one-on-one debate, but O’Leary declined.