Twelve of the 14 Conservative candidates debated in Langley Saturday.

Updated: Conservative leadership candidates debate in Langley (with videos)

Fraser Valley event organized by local associations after the region was left out of the national debate schedule




The only Fraser Valley debate of Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidates heard from several people who believe they can beat Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government in the next federal election.

More than 500 people bought tickets to see 12 of the 14 hopefuls appear at the Darvonda Nurseries greenhouse at 6690 216 St. on Saturday afternoon.

Candidates Kevin O’Leary and Deepak Obhrai were no-shows.

The three-hour “Debate in the Valley” was moderated by Conservative senator Yonah Martin.

Langley—Aldergrove Conservative MP Mark Warawa drew the first sustained round of applause when he opened the event by saying the party  was preparing to pick the “next prime minister of Canada.”

Candidates agreed taxes should come down and there should be better funding for the military, with several promising they would return the government to a balanced budget.

Brad Trost said he would privatize the CBC to save money.

Immigration was one of the issues that generated the most attention, with Kellie Leitch referring to reports of refugee claimants walking across the Canadian border.

“It’s literally 40 or 50 people every day,” Leitch said.

“These people are illegally entering our country. We have laws about this. These individuals should be detained. We should talk to them about whether they really are refugees. and if they aren’t, they should be sent home.”

Michael Chong said Conservatives need to stop making immigration an issue if they want to form the next government.

“We have to stop playing politics with immigration,’ said Chong.

Erin O’Toole said refugees are already being screened.

“Every refugee family, including those here in Langley, were screened. So let’s not pretend they were not.

“Properly done, immigration is a success for our economy,” O’Toole added.

O’Toole was one of several candidates who tailored his pitch for B.C. party members, saying that five hours after he announced his candidacy in Ontario, “I was on a plane to British Columbia, because I think that key to us winning the next election, is to rebuild here in this province.” Story continues after photo:

Kellie Leitch (standing) speaks at the Langley debate while Lisa Raitt (seated) waits her turn. Rick Peterson holds the colour-coded cards candidates were given by debate organizers to ration their speaking time. A candidate could have as little as 15 seconds to speak, depending on the card they chose to use. Dan Ferguson/Langley Times

More than one candidate mentioned they are able to speak both English and French, a possible dig at reported front-runner Kevin O’Leary over his admitted weakness in French.

Maxime Bernier said he can passionately promote the party in both English and French, while Andrew Saxton said, “We need a leader who’s bilingual.”

Pierre Lemieux, a self-described pro-life supporter, was applauded for suggesting the debate over abortion should be re-opened.

“We should be able to talk about this,” Lemieux said.

Lemieux was also applauded when he complained that the Supreme Court is treated as a sacrosanct institution that cannot be questioned.

“Perhaps we should have term limits for Supreme Court justices and maybe we should have politicians helping to decide who our Supreme Court justices are,” Lemieux said.

Abortion and all other issues should be up for debate in parliament, Bernier said.

Steven Blaney and Brad Trost said the federal government should be willing to overturn court decisions using the notwithstanding clause, which allows Parliament to override portions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Some candidates said the party needs to be open and inclusive if it wants to defeat the Liberals.

“The only way to win in 2019 is to have a “big tent” Conservative team that accepts everybody, that works with everybody” said Lisa Raitt.

“We need a leader that keeps every kind of conservative in the tent,” said Andrew Scheer.

New U.S. president Donald Trump came up several times, with candidates arguing a Conservative Prime Minister would do better at negotiating with the pro-business American leader, and several agreeing with Trump that Canada needs to spend more on its military commitments.

Rick Peterson appeared to break with the other candidates by supporting safe injection sites, basing his stance on “having lived in Vancouver and done volunteer work with First Nations youth and others in the Downtown Eastside, and having listened to people on the ground.”

Scheer, Lemieux and Chris Alexander promised they would eliminate the Liberals’ carbon tax.

The Conservative Party leadership election will be held on May 27 in Toronto.

The raw feed of the Langley debate can be viewed below:

 

Meet the candidates:

Chris Alexander

Maxime Bernier

Steven Blaney

Michael Chong

Kellie Leitch

Pierre Lemieux

Deepak Obhrai

Kevin O’Leary

Erin O’Toole

Rick Peterson

Lisa Raitt

Andrew Saxton

Andrew Scheer

Brad Trost