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Four Conservative party leadership contenders face off in 2nd debate

WATCH ABOVE: The full Conservative Party Leadership Debate

Conservative leadership contenders Derek Sloan and Leslyn Lewis sought to regain their footing in the contest Thursday by advancing both provocative and passionate arguments stemming from their social conservative roots.

Conservative leadership race unchanged as MacKay, O’Toole remain frontrunners following debate
Conservative leadership race unchanged as MacKay, O’Toole remain frontrunners following debate

The English language debate Thursday night in Toronto marked what will likely be the final face-off between all four contenders in the race before the ballots are sent out to party members early next month.

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READ MORE: Conservative leadership hopefuls spar over carbon tax, inclusivity in French debate

Conservative leadership candidates hold English debate
Conservative leadership candidates hold English debate

It was a far less feisty affair than Wednesday night’s French-language debate when contenders Erin O’Toole and Peter MacKay battled against each other and dominated the stage, sidelining Sloan and Lewis largely due to their relative lack of proficiency in French.

The two wasted little time trying to get the spotlight back.

Conservative leadership candidates address systemic racism in Canada during debate
Conservative leadership candidates address systemic racism in Canada during debate

Sloan suggested the party can gain ground on social conservative issues come the next election, saying new Canadians don’t believe in the concept of multiple genders and don’t want their kids confused.

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He also suggested that high immigration is creating a housing shortage and spoke out forcefully against Quebec’s controversial Bill 21, which bans the wearing of religious symbols by public workers.

Conservative leadership candidates clash over environment, energy sector
Conservative leadership candidates clash over environment, energy sector

READ MORE: Tory leadership candidate Erin O’Toole used U.S. call centre to contact voters

Sloan called the bill a form of systemic racism and said Conservatives refuse to discuss it because they don’t want to lose support in Quebec.

“This bill is not right, and I’m against it,” he said before calling upon his competitors to do the same.

He did not raise the issue during last night’s French debate.

‘That’s another lie’: O’Toole, MacKay spar in Conservative leadership French debate
‘That’s another lie’: O’Toole, MacKay spar in Conservative leadership French debate

For her part, Lewis — who had struck largely to a script on Wednesday — grew animated when she fielded a question submitted by a young boy asking why she wants to be prime minister.

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Quoting Michael Jackson, Lewis said she’s running because she believes children are the future and offered a passionate defence of her belief in family values.

Earlier, she also spoke out forcefully about the treatment of the elderly, saying one of the key lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis was how vulnerable seniors are. She suggested many are being encouraged to take advantage of medical assistance in dying so they won’t be a burden.

READ MORE: Conservative leadership candidate Jim Karahalios disqualified despite legal victory

CPC leadership candidates hold back-to-back debates
CPC leadership candidates hold back-to-back debates

Sloan and Lewis have depended heavily on well-organized and funded social conservative groups to help raise the cash and get the signatures they needed to enter the leadership race.

Both have made anti-abortion policies part of their campaigns, and Sloan suggested Thursday that O’Toole and MacKay would agree that it is not right Canada doesn’t have a law against abortion.

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Both of the perceived front-runners have said a Conservative government led by them would not introduce legislation to restrict access to abortion, but they would allow free votes on it.

O’Toole, however, has been running as what he calls a “True Blue” conservative, a nod to the original more right-wing elements of the party from back in its Reform days.

Coronavirus outbreak: Conservative leadership candidate Peter MacKay backs down from October election call
Coronavirus outbreak: Conservative leadership candidate Peter MacKay backs down from October election call

MacKay, by contrast, continues to campaign on his Progressive Conservative credentials; he was leader of that party when it merged with the Reform/Canadian Alliance.

He suggested Thursday, however, that the old labels needed to go.

“I don’t speak of true blue,” he said. “I speak of everyone.”