Conservative leadership hopefuls face off in heated West Island debate

It was standing room only at the Holiday Inn in Pointe-Claire Monday night, with candidates in the Conservative Party leadership race squaring off in a debate that had its share of political theatre—from using milk as a prop, to applause breaks for attempting to speak French.

Of the 14 candidates vying to replace Stephen Harper at the head of the party, both Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux were in attendance but barred from participating over what the riding association described as a communication breakdown with the candidate's campaigns. A third candidate, Deepak Ohbrai, was absent.

Conservative leadership candidates (clockwise from upper left) Michael Chong, Maxime Bernier, Kellie Leitch, Erin O'Toole, Lisa Raitt and Andrew Scheer.

Parliament of Canada

Along the dais, candidates' sights were trained on Kevin O'Leary, whether it was Andrew Saxton implying he isn't fit to lead a country he doesn't live in, or other candidates dismissing him as not a true conservative.

At one point, O'Leary said the party must embrace more socially progressive stances on LGBTQIA+ rights, marijuana legalization, for it to attract millennial voters.

"Get used to it; that is the definition of the Conservative Party going forward."

Quebec-born candidate Steven Blaney was among those not on board with legalizing cannabis use and possession, saying "I don't think Canadians should be guinea pigs." 

He was booed by some younger members of the audience in response.

Kellie Leitch agreed with Blaney, saying there is a "line in the stand with the candidates on this stage."

"Some are on the liberal side of the ledger, and some of us are conservatives," she added.

While O'Leary did not participate in the first French debate last month, he did speak French during the showdown in Pointe-Claire, drawing some of the loudest rounds of applause the whole night. Reading from a statement on a piece of paper, he spoke of his Montreal roots and his pledges to lower taxes and create jobs.

Kevin O'Leary reads a prepared French statement during opening remarks at the Conservative Party leadership debate in Pointe-Claire on Monday.

Andrew Brennan / CJAD 800

The night held its share of theatrics, with the two Quebecers in the race facing off over dairy farming supply management.

Maxime Bernier has run on a free market platform and wants to do end Canada's dairy, egg and poultry quota system.

Blaney disagreed, even bringing a glass of milk on stage as a prop to help prove his point, while calling Bernier's desire to do away with quotas to be a "gimmick" that will cause further subsidizing than the current system.

The pair went back and forth debating the matter, and Blaney even continued on by yelling once the sound to his microphone was shut off.

The Conservative Party caucus will elect its new leader at the end of May.