If it wasn’t for the pandemic, the Conservative Party would have had a new leader by this weekend. Instead, the race goes on with the final four candidates to be decided by mail-in ballots in August.
Canadians witnessed both agreement and clash as the four leadership candidates had their first televised debates last week. The timing of Ottawa’s failed attempt at getting a seat at the United Nations Security Council provided an opportunity for the candidates to discuss foreign policy.
The candidates agreed Canada needs to improve its relationship with the United States but disagreed on how best to engage with the United Nations.
Both Erin O’Toole and fellow front-runner Peter MacKay believe Canada needs to change its stance toward the U.N. but disagreed on the approach.
“We should have Taiwan in the World Health Organization and not be standing in their way,” said MacKay, who spent six years as Canada’s defence minister. “We should be advocating at the United Nations, not pandering to them. And frankly, we don’t have time to reform the United Nations as suggested by Mr. O’Toole.”
O’Toole, the official opposition critic for foreign affairs, retorted, “Mr. MacKay, I’ve been saying for four years you reform the United Nations by holding your money back. … We’ve seen the World Health Organization corrupted. We’ve seen trading and scandals of corruption within the U.N. The free countries of the world need to unite and say we’re no longer going to let the bad actors of the world run these institutions.”
The candidates had greater agreement when moderator Lisa Raitt, a former Conservative cabinet minister, asked them how they would relate to the current and next administration in the United States.
All four candidates promised a more respectful relationship with the United States, including MacKay, who said: “To get things done, you have to take an approach that isn’t insulting, that isn’t confrontational, that isn’t seen as speaking behind somebody’s back on the world stage as we saw Mr. Trudeau do. Those types of behaviours don’t advance Canada’s interests.”
Leadership candidate Derek Sloan agreed. “We shouldn’t insult the president of the United States when we’re the prime minister of Canada.”
Sloan, a lawyer first elected to Parliament last year, believes failed diplomacy is part of the reason that Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor remain jailed in China. The two were charged with spying on June 19, but were arrested in China 18 months ago following Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition request.
Sloan said that in order to entice the United States to do more to help Canada, Ottawa needs to take “our closest, closest ally seriously.”
“We need to forge an excellent relationship with them. We need to work with them to constrain China,” he said.
The candidates were also critical of Ottawa’s Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) trade negotiations.
“We have made concessions when it came to supply management. We have made concessions with respect to aluminum … with intellectual property. We have opened ourselves up to vulnerability. In fact, we have even foregone some of our sovereignty,” said MacKay, who led the Progressive Conservative Party before it merged with the Canadian Alliance party to become the Conservative Party of Canada.
The CUSMA prevents the signatories from holding free trade talks with “non-market economies.” O’Toole said American fears led to this stipulation “because the Trudeau government was too close with the Communist Party of China.”
He said China has dumped aluminum and steel at the cost of Canadian jobs, which led to his push to reform the World Trade Organization. O’Toole also wants Canada to pursue CANZUK, a proposed free trade agreement between Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
Leadership candidate Leslyn Lewis, who is a lawyer, said her platform is about “courage, compassion, and common sense.” She challenged MacKay and O’Toole on their support for spending 2 percent of GDP on military spending as part of the commitment they made to NATO.
“While they were both in the defence positions for our government, they never reached that spending level and I’m curious as to why,” she said.
“The recession of ’08–’09 is essentially the answer,” MacKay replied.
“Well we have COVID now,” Lewis said. “We have greater problems than we did in the recession of 2009, so why should Canadians believe that promise?”
Lewis has a Juris Doctor from Osgoode Hall Law School and a master’s degree in environmental studies from York University. She believes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s environmental bills C-48 and C-69 are too onerous on oil extraction and pipelines. She also opposes O’Toole’s proposal for a national regulatory pricing system on carbon emissions.
“It does seem like it’s a double tax,” she said. “I also have problems, Mr. MacKay, with your policy because you have given a 100 percent capital cost allowance to the manufacturing sector. What about the oil and gas sector?”
Sloan declared himself the only candidate who would designate Antifa as a terrorist organization. He also said: “I won’t cede an ounce of our sovereignty to international organizations. I’m the only candidate who is committed to defunding the World Health Organization and getting Canada out of the Paris Agreement.”