Last night, the first debate of the race for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada took place. First off, let us address the elephant in the room: this debate was horribly arranged. With 12 candidates, each was given a mere 40 seconds to answer complex questions regarding the economy, immigration, and the environment. As a result, rather than getting a diverse range of opinion on each issue, there was, more or less, an echo chamber of vague (small c) conservative rhetoric.

Furthermore, it was this sort of overcrowded debate stage that allowed Donald Trump to seize the nomination of the GOP earlier in 2016; a candidate possessing a mere ≈30% popularity rating within his own party. Will the Conservatives learn from the mistakes of the Republicans, forcing at least half of the currently declared candidates to drop out? One can only hope.

Daniel Lindsay

  • Overall: B- (for stylistic reasons)
  • Economics: A
  • Immigration: B
  • Environment: B

Lindsay is a Radiologist from Winnipeg, Manitoba who strongly emphasizes that he is “not a career politician”. Lindsay is smart, articulate, and a seemingly strong Conservative, however, his style is unprepossessing to say the least. Despite his particularly strong showing in the debate, it was nearly all for naught due to his closing statement, “Conservative is cool”. Awkward and unappealing statements such as this will hurt Lindsay in 2019 if he is running against Trudeau. In shortest, and almost criminally vague terms, Lindsay is a strong candidate but lacks political charisma and appeal.

Lindsay, more or less, nailed every economics question in the debate. He emphasized the importance of lowering taxes, managing the debt, and stressed how harmful internal trade regulations are. In the later half of the debate, he made clear his intentions as Prime Minister to defend free trade from Donald Trump’s protectionism. Again, due to the overcrowded debate stage, answers were kept short, making it hard to fully dissect Lindsay’s positions further.

On the question of immigration, Lindsay was also strong. However, the vagueness of his answers make it difficult to draw confident conclusions. When asked about his position on immigration, Lindsay explained that immigration is important to any economy – the Canadian economy, in particular. However, he did not gloss over the equal importance of safety when screening immigrants. He also added that Canada needs to ensure that immigrants possess the skills necessary to support themselves once here, thus minimizing the strain on social welfare.

On environmental issues, Lindsay opposes the carbon tax for economic reasons. Little additional information on environmental issues was given.

Michael Chong

  • Overall: C-
  • Economics: C
  • Immigration: B-
  • Environment: F

With the opening statement “I live on a farm, so I understand agriculture… son of immigrants, so I understand immigrants… I run in the GTA, so I know how to win in cities…”, it was clear what direction Chong wants to take the party: left. How else do Conservatives get elected in the GTA? By being Liberals.

Never mind the fact that these claims make for awkward quotations, it is misleading, foolish, and insulting to voters to assume that by merely living on a farm, for example, Chong is entitled to the vote of rural Canadians. Furthermore, Chong is attempting to take the Conservative party in the direction of identity politics, and that is… low.

Chong rightfully took heat from the other candidates for his support of British Columbia’s revenue neutral carbon tax – a big ‘no, no’ – but it is not all bad with Chong. He supports cutting income taxes by 10% ($14.9 billion) and corporate taxes by 5% ($1.9 billion). He also claimed a review of government programs with the intent of identifying and cutting wasteful programs was apart of his economic plan. Finally, Chong wishes to pursue the TPP and free trade in general, fighting the growing protectionist sentiment in the United States.

On immigration, all Chong had to say was that he supported immigration based on economic benefit to Canada. His lack of specifics is slightly disappointing considering his enthusiasm on the topic in his opening statement.

Lisa Raitt

  • Overall: B (due to vagueness)
  • Economics: B
  • Immigration: B
  • Environment: B

In her opening statement, Lisa Raitt was most content on one topic: winning the next election. Her tenacity is refreshing, but her policies are vague and difficult to discern. Again, but not for the last time, do I mention the issue of the 40 second response time in this debate.

Raitt is a supporter of international free trade (including NAFTA), and reducing internal trade regulations in Canada. In the debate, Raitt said that Canada needs to balance security with the economic benefits of immigration to find an equilibrium. She opposes the carbon tax, and supports investing in the private sector for alternative solutions to reduce carbon emissions.

Deepak Obhrai

  • Overall: C (due to vagueness)
  • Economics: C
  • Immigration: C
  • Environment: C

As the “longest serving Conservative member of parliament”, as Obhrai said, he is running on a platform of experience. In spite of this, he offers little more than talking points in place of policies. Although it sounds nice, merely saying “the days of protectionism are over” is not a convincing enough case to be made leader of the Conservative Party. Unfortunately, Obhrai does not offer any specific economic policy, instead he advocates ‘reverting’ back to Harper’s policies (in all their vagueness).

Erin O’Toole

  • Overall: B
  • Economics: B
  • Immigration: B
  • Environment: N/A

Unfortunately, at the time of this debate, O’Toole’s platform had not fully been ironed out. As a result of both this fact and the structure of the debate, O’Toole found himself unable to deeply elaborate on his ideas.

Erin O’Toole is many things – a veteran, a business lawyer, an MP, a former Cabinet Minister – and, as a result, being ill-qualified to lead the Conservatives is not one of them.  Thus already being a strong candidate, O’Toole is sure to find himself near the front of the race due to his strongest calling card: veteran’s issues. In the debate, he stressed his commitment to veteran’s, and emphasized his objection to their treatment under the current Trudeau government.

On the question of economics, O’Toole reiterated his past experience as a business lawyer in the private sector. It is out of his past experience, he said, that his and understanding of, appreciation for the private sector stems. Going further, he mentioned the importance of controlled spending, open and free internal borders, and the TPP. His love for free enterprise, however, only goes so far; he does not oppose supply management.

Again, due to both his limited supply of available polices at the time, and the short 40-second response limit, O’Toole had little to say on the question of immigration. The only memorable comment he made on the topic is that it is imperative to beneficial immigration that immigrants have skills.

Andrew Saxton

  • Overall: A-
  • Economics: A
  • Immigration: B+
  • Environment: A-

Andrew Saxton just may be the “economics candidate”, meaning that he focus most on the economy out of all the current candidates. In his opening statement, he said “the number one issue in the next election will be the economy… I have both the international financial experience and the domestic political experience to manage these issues.” As a result, he has a strong economic platform, and thus a strong campaign.

With experience in the private sector, Saxton understands the damage of “value destroyers” such as ‘red tape’, and bureaucracy. As leader, Saxton would focus attention on cutting down said red tape and restrictions, along with the unemployment rate. He also wishes to freeze government spending, free up trade restrictions internally, and ensure free trade internationally. Specifically, Saxton wants to be less reliant on the United States, and, by opening new free trade agreements, expand the stability of the economy. Saxton lived in Asia for eight years, and thus “understands” the importance of a free trade agreement with Asia in the form of the Trans Pacific Partnership. On economics, Saxton is a strong candidate and a strong conservative.

Being the economically focused person that he is, Saxton made clear that Canada needs “the right kind of immigration”, meaning the kind in which people bring skills to the economy and integrate successfully. No more information was given.

Saxton wants, as he puts it, a “North American solution to greenhouse gas emissions”, does not support a federal carbon tax, and supports the Energy East, Keystone XL, and Northern Gateway pipeline.

Chris Alexander

  • Overall: A-
  • Economics: B+
  • Immigration: A
  • Environment: A

In his opening statement, Alexander made clear what his focus would be as Prime Minister: the bottom line. “First of all, we need to lower taxes, lower the burden on small business, continue lowering the corporate tax rate, continue taking the border off the shoulders of families”, he said. Alexander supports free trade with Asia, with Europe, as well as within Canada between provinces. This, obviously, includes the TPP as well. In the Harper government, Alexander was apart of the Cabinet as the Minister of Immigration and Citizenship. He does, however, support re-drafting NAFTA, and supports possibly adding the U.K. as well.

An Alexander-run government would be pro-immigration, however, according to the former Minister of Immigration himself, “[a] strong economy is a prerequisite.” According to Alexander, 70% of immigrants needs to be ‘economic immigrants’. “They should not touch down in Canada without the ability to work in their profession”, he said.

Chris Alexander is against the carbon tax, as he knows it will kill jobs. Rather than taxing industry, he supports private sector innovation to find solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Maxime Bernier

  • Overall: A
  • Economics: A
  • Immigration: A
  • Environment: A

In his own words, Maxime Bernier is “a Conservative who believes in individual freedom and personal liberty.” He is the only candidate that wants to abolish supply management, and end corporate welfare. In other words, Bernier lives up to everything that Conservatives claim to be. Bernier fully supports free trade, and criticizes the other candidates’ inconsistency. He also, in the debate, mentioned the 78 ridings of Quebec, and how it is important for the Conservative party to speak to them.

Maxime Bernier was a cabinet Minister in the Harper government. He has served as the  Minister of Industry, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism, and Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism and Agriculture. In other words, a lack of experience is not among the list of reasonable criticisms one could lob at Bernier.

Bernier wants to ‘unleash the private sector.’, lower taxes, end corporate welfare, privatize the CBC and Canada Post, airports, control spending, limit government, and not interfere with provincial jurisdiction. In a lot of ways, Bernier is a true Federalist, i.e., someone who respects the rights of local governments over the Federal government. However, this is not to say that he would lead an uninvolved government; Bernier would federally institute free trade between the provinces of Canada. As a free-trader, Bernier supports free trade unequivocally, including NAFTA and TPP.

On immigration, Maxime Bernier believes Canada needs to support immigrants that adhere to Canadian values (“Canadian values” left undefined, but not impossible to understand). He also said that the federal government needs to work with the provinces on the issue, whether that means giving more power to the provinces or the opposite.

Bernier does not support the carbon tax, his reason being that it will hurt trade with countries that have already tried, and repealed carbon tax legislation. Instead of a tax, Bernier supports private sector innovation as a solution.

Steven Blaney

  • Overall: C+
  • Economics: D
  • Immigration: A
  • Environment: A

As Prime Minister, Blaney would work with Trump in order to try and keep NAFTA, and also try and expand free trade to Asia. Blaney wants to abolish the Indian Act to allow natives to reach their full potential. But Blaney is not perfect. In fact, he attacked fellow Quebecer Maxime Bernier for being opposed to supply management. “I like free trade but I love my Canadian milk”, Blaney said; which is a double negative, essentially. That is like saying “I love chocolate milk but I actually don’t.” Blaney talks out of both sides his mouth, claiming to support free trade, but wants to protect certain industries (especially Quebec ones such as the dairy.)

Blaney advocates for strict immigration in the sense that Canada needs to ensure immigrants fully integrate to Canadian life. This includes a respect for the equality of the sexes, the rule of law, and so on.

On environmental issues, Blaney believes “we cannot tax our way out of this”. He went on to say “a tax is a tax is a tax”, attacking Michael Chong for his support of British Columbia’s carbon tax.

In summary, Steven Blaney has all the accent and language flaws of Maxime Bernier, while lacking the same, strong Libertarian/Conservative platform.

Brad Trost

  • Overall: A-
  • Economics: A-
  • Immigration: B
  • Environment: A

Brad Trost is the most socially conservative candidate in the leadership race. This may sound like a horrendous tattoo for any prospective leader of the Harper Conservative Party to have, however, Trost uses his traditional positions to his advantage. “In 2019, the Conservative Party needs to win,” Trost Said in the debate, “To win, we need every part of the Conservative family: social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, conservatives from the reformed Democratic tradition, and conservatives who take national security seriously. I am the only candidate that not only identifies with every part of the Conservative coalition, but will deliver for every part of the Conservative coalition.” Trost went on to say “We need 100% of conservatives to win; I am 100% Conservative.” As a result, Trost is able to use his socially conservative views as a tool for a strategic unity platform.

In the past, Trost has served as the vice-chair of the Canada-US Parliamentary Association, which provides Canadian Members of Parliament and American Representatives of Congress to discuss international policies of both agreement and disagreement. His past experience of working with American Congressmen should serve as a benefit considering the Trump administration’s protectionist positions.

True to his word, Trost not only exemplifies the spirit of a social conservative, but also a fiscal conservative. Trost wants to lower taxes (payroll, income, capital gains), control spending, and privatize the CBC. And, although he did not explicitly say so, he seems to agree with Maxime Bernier on enforcing free trade between the provinces. “The Prime Minister must be prepared to ‘use the stick'”, Trost said on the issue. Trost supported the Trans Pacific Partnership but believes it is now dead. Instead, Trost says, Canada should focus on specific trade deals with the United Kingdom and Japan.

On the question of immigration, Trost made clear that he “married an immigrant.” He went on to say that Canada needs immigrants that benefit the economy, and that all potential immigrants need skills to grow the economy.

He also wants to end the war on oil, gas, and coal. According to Trost, there would be no carbon tax, no cap and trade, and no over the top regulations under his government. If it sounds like these positions would cause the CBC, Globe and Mail, and Huffington Post to have a field day, you are right. Being a social conservative, Trost already has a target on his back, and his environmental positions will not shrink the size of that target. However, Trost is a geophysicist who has worked on energy policy for seven years, so it is not as if he has no clue what he is talking about when he forms positions on environmental issues. If anything could potentially minimize the number of attacks a Conservative leader would be susceptible to, having a degree in Geophysics and experience in environmental policy must be it.

Kellie Leitch

  • Overall: C
  • Economics: B
  • Immigration: F (due to horrible approach)
  • Environment: B

Leitch has been a dedicated conservative since the young age of 14. Aside from political experience, Leitch is a paediatric surgeon, and a former teacher of business at Canadian universities.

Leitch is a supporter of the private sector. Kellie states she is going to cap government spending, reduce the size of government and let free trade thrive. During the debate she stated “the only way we can all prosper for the long term is when the private sector grows and the public sector shrinks”. Leitch believes in the renegotiation of NAFTA with President Trump, to strengthen Canada’s economy. She also supports TPP.

Leitch’s controversial immigration policies have recently brought her into the spotlight of media. Protecting “Canadian values” is the platform of her candidacy. She plans to do so through a “tight screening process”, and face-to-face interviews for every individual attempting to enter Canada. These interviews are to ensure that the applicant shares similar values on equality, patriotism, tolerance and fairness. Leitch mentioned that she shares similar views on immigration as Trump. Leitch made it clear that her policy has Canada at heart, and that she is running for Prime Minister, not for the United Nations like Trudeau; which is an obvious attempt to ride the coattails of Trump’s anti “globalization” publicity.

On environmental issues, Leitch demonstrates the classical conservative opinion. She advocated for both the Keystone XL and the Kinder Morgan pipeline, and opposes the wasteful Carbon tax implemented by Prime Minister Trudeau.

Andrew Scheer

  • Overall: A-
  • Economics: A
  • Immigration: B+
  • Environment: B+

Andrew Scheer, the self proclaimed “real conservative”, demonstrates the aspiration to unite the Conservative Party under conventional ideas. Scheer states “we need a leader who can keep our movement united and focused on the things that bring us together”, portraying a strong, unified, party. In his opening statement, he mentioned that the “wrong lesson [from the last election] would be to become Liberal-light”, coercing the party into supporting beliefs that Canadians do not actually have. Scheer, being the youngest ever Speaker of the House of Commons, lacks not in political experience, and as one might guess, speaks eloquently.

Although lacking experience in the private sector, Scheer demonstrated capable economic policy to get Canada back on track. Creating an internal free-trade act, reducing spending, and focusing on investment, were at the top of Andrew’s economic priority. Andrew demonstrated his advocation for the private sector as he stated “prosperity comes from the private sector”. Like most conservatives, Andrew is a supporter of the TPP and free trade. Scheer plans to bring investment to Canada on a global scale and pressure President Trump into supporting free trade. Scheer avoided the question of supply management.

In regards to immigration policy, Andrew Scheer supports “smart immigration” based on the interests of the Canadian economy. He also strongly believes in ensuring the integration of immigrants into Canadian society. He did not elaborate as to how he would accomplish or assess the integration of immigrants in great detail.

Trudeau’s environmental carbon tax was slated as “economic madness” by Scheer, referencing other countries who are or have abandoned their own carbon tax policies, such as Australia.

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