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The latest on the French-language Conservative leadership debate in Laval

LAVAL, Que. — Conservative leadership hopefuls are squaring off — in French — in the second official debate of the race, which is being held in Laval, Que. Here are the latest developments. All times eastern: 9:50 p.m.
Conservative leadership hopefuls Pierre Poilievre, left to right, Patrick Brown, Scott Aitchison, Leslyn Lewis, Jean Charest and Roman Baber take part in the Conservative Party of Canada French-language leadership debate in Laval, Quebec on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

LAVAL, Que. — Conservative leadership hopefuls are squaring off — in French — in the second official debate of the race, which is being held in Laval, Que.

Here are the latest developments. All times eastern:

9:50 p.m. 

Former Quebec premier Jean Charest says Conservative party members need to pick someone who can unite the party and country, not someone who talks about Bitcoin and attacking the Bank of Canada governor. 

In his final two-minute segment in the French-language leadership debate, Charest was referring to Ottawa-area MP Pierre Poilievre.

He has touted the cryptocurrency as a solution to inflation and said Tiff Macklem should be fired over Canada's high inflation rate. 

For his part, Poilievre says people feel like they have lost control of their lives to rising prices and COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Poilievre says he would focus on working-class people who feel forgotten by the federal Liberal government. 

Ontario MP Leslyn Lewis, a social conservative, says that as leader she wants to unite the Conservative movement and would respect everyone's opinion, including whether they support abortion rights or are opposed.


9:15 p.m.

Longtime Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre underlined that he is against the controversial secularism law in Quebec when pressed by his opponents in the French-language leadership debate.

Poilievre says he is against Bill 21, which prohibits certain public servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols on the job. 

Former Quebec premier Jean Charest and Patrick Brown, an Ontario mayor, both accused Poilievre of not being clear on his position when speaking about it in French in Quebec, where the law has a lot of support.

Poilievre says he would vote against the legislation if it were to be presented in the House of Commons and if he were a member of Quebec's National Assembly.

Federal Justice Minister David Lametti said earlier today that Ottawa would join a legal challenge to the religious symbols law if it reaches the Supreme Court.

In the debate, Poilievre says he would not overturn that decision.


8:55 p.m.

Conservative leadership candidates Patrick Brown and Leslyn Lewis took turns attacking rival Pierre Poilievre for his embrace of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin as a solution to inflation.

Lewis, who is often reading from her notes during the French-language debate in Laval, Que., said Poilievre's position was wrong. 

At one point, Brown said Poilievre's position on Bitcoin was similar to that of the leadership in El Salvador, which adopted Bitcoin as legal tender.

The International Monetary Fund urged the Central American country to drop Bitcoin as its official currency earlier this year, citing its volatility.


8:20 p.m.

Former Quebec premier Jean Charest says Canada must renegotiate the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States.

He says that is how he would deal with "illegal immigration," such as migrants entering the country through the unofficial border crossing at Roxham Road south of Montreal.

Candidates were asked about immigration as the first question in the debate. 

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown used the question to say he was trying to build an inclusive party and attacked Ottawa-area MP Pierre Poilievre for not publicly condemning the "white replacement" conspiracy theory espoused by Pat King, a leader of the Ottawa convoy protest. 

Poilievre responded by saying he has in fact condemned King's remarks and that people couldn't believe anything Brown says. 

While answering a question about public safety, Poilievre said the country needs to better deal with guns illegally brought into Canada.

Charest said Poilievre has no businesses talking about law and order when he supported the Ottawa convoy, which he called an illegal blockade.

The room then erupted into a mix of cheers and boos.


8:10 p.m. 

Candidates took to the stage and began by outlining one by one what legacy they wanted to leave behind as leaders.

Pierre Poilievre says he wants his legacy to be making Canada the freest country in the world, including by making sure people don't feel forced to get vaccinated and that young people are able to afford a home. 

Patrick Brown says he can win in urban areas, which the party needs, and has what it takes to build a party that can succeed in a general election. 

Roman Baber, an Independent member of the Ontario legislature, introduced himself to the crowd.

He says he knows Canada is bilingual and has taken lessons, but still asked those watching to forgive his French.


8:05 p.m. 

The Conservative party's leadership organizing committee announced before the debate began that it will announce the results of the leadership race at a downtown Ottawa convention centre on Sept. 10.

The party's president, Robert Batherson, says it will be the first time since 2018 that members will gather together at a national event.

The party held a convention in Halifax in 2018.


7:50 p.m.

House music issued from amplifiers as Conservatives of all ages began to take their seats ahead of tonight's leadership debate.

Several hundred attendees, who were not wearing masks, crowded the ballroom of the Chateau Royal venue north of Montreal, seated between television cameras and the stage.

The six contenders are slated to appear at their podiums at 8 p.m.


7:30 p.m.

Conservative leadership candidates filed in for the race's only French-language debate, being held at a reception hall north of Montreal.

The suburban venue in Laval, Que., saw scores of federal Tories and onlookers mingling in the foyer before the six contenders take the stage.

Former Quebec premier Jean Charest greeted a handful of supporters with kisses, while Ontario MP Scott Aitchison chatted with party members amid sign-up booths for each candidate.

Bookending the stage beneath ballroom chandeliers were a bank of speakers and 14 flags — six with the Fleur-de-lis, eight with the Maple Leaf.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2022

The Canadian Press

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