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Third Conservative leadership debate suffers without Poilievre or Lewis present

Charest said that Poilievre did not attend the event to avoid being held "accountable" for his opinion.

Roberto Wakerell-Cruz Montreal QC

The Conservative Party's leadership debate on Wednesday suffered from low attendance and low interest, as frontrunner Pierre Poilievre opted to sit out from the event.

Also not present was the social conservative MP for Haldimand—Norfolk, Leslyn Lewis, leaving perceived runner-up Jean Charest, former Ontario PC MPP Roman Baber, and MP Scott Aitchison to duke it out on stage. According to the Canadian Press, the event drew just 300 sets of eyeballs on its live Facebook feed at its peak, with just 100 people tuning in by the end.

"The party’s feed on YouTube indicated more than 18,000 views on Thursday morning, but it is unclear who tuned in to listen during the debate as it was happening," they report.

Poilievre, meanwhile, was at an event in Regina, Saskatchewan, where he told the crowd that there was "no place" that he would rather be. Lewis, meanwhile, was meeting with supporters in Cornwall, PEI.

Charest, of course, used this as an opportunity to attack Poilievre for ditching the event. The Charest camp even went so far as to buy the domain, showing a crudely made video of an empty podium with Poilievre's name on it.

Charest said that Poilievre did not attend the event to avoid being held "accountable" for his opinion.

"I've accepted every invitation for debates and panels, and I actually thought when this leadership race started that this is fundamental to our responsibility towards the members of the party, to be accountable to them and their questions," said Charest. "For a candidate not to participate in a debate is like a fish who says it doesn’t want to swim in the ocean."

"This is the basic thing we all need to do and should be accountable for," Charest continued.

Poilievre made clear shortly after the debate's announcement that he would be sitting out to meet with supporters.

"Pierre Poilievre participated in two official Conservative Party debates, as well as the Canada Strong and Free Network debate in Ottawa," the Poilievre campaign wrote in a statement.

"The first two debates were scheduled in the middle of the membership sales period, when candidates were travelling the country to recruit new members to the Party," they continued, lamenting the fact that candidates had to put their travel plans on hold to participate.

They noted that the party's third debate was to take place "smack dab in the middle of the get out the vote period," adding that Poilievre "will be on the road again, without interruption" to get members to fill out their ballots.

The Poilievre campaign then took aim at Jean Charest's dismal event attendance, suggesting that the former Quebec premier wanted another debate in order to "use Pierre's popularity with the members to bring out an audience he can't get on his own."

The second official debate was criticized as "an embarrassment" for a number of reasons, namely the seemingly unimportant questions asked by the "Laurentian elite liberal media personality" chosen as moderator.

Poilievre and Lewis were fined $50,000 for not attending.

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