Candidates vying for the Conservative leadership framed the country — and the party — as deeply divided at the first official debate on Wednesday.
The loudest applause in the Edmonton Convention Centre, packed with more than 1,000 people, repeatedly went to longtime MP Pierre Poilievre, who said his vision for the country is about giving people “freedom to take back control of their lives.”
A major part of his pitch is about fighting inflation. During the debate, he took specific aim at Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem, saying he would fire him because Canada’s inflation rate is the highest it’s been in decades.
“The Bank of Canada governor has allowed himself to become the ATM machine of this government. And so I would replace him with a new governor who would reinstate our low-inflation mandate, protect the purchasing power of our dollar and honour the working people who earn those dollars,” Poilievre said.
Jean Charest, Quebec’s former premier, responded by saying the MP’s remarks were irresponsible and sowed distrust in the system.
“Conservatives do not do that.”
Leslyn Lewis, a social conservative who placed third in the party’s 2020 leadership race before being elected as an MP for Ontario in last year’s federal election, said after the debate she found the comment concerning, saying it “undermines credibility in our economic system.”
“I don’t agree that Members of Parliament should be meddling in the Bank of Canada.”
Poilievre was the only candidate not to speak to reporters following the debate.
The popular Conservative, who has at times drawn crowds by the thousands at campaign events across the country, was repeatedly targeted by different candidates on topics including his embrace of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.
Charest, along with Lewis, accused Poilievre of encouraging Canadians to invest in the risky digital currency.
Patrick Brown, mayor of Brampton, Ont., said “magic internet money” like Bitcoin fluctuates wildly and Poilievre shouldn’t be encouraging Canada’s vulnerable investors to gamble their savings.
In response, Poilievre said he did not encourage people to invest in Bitcoin, but does not want to see it banned because investors deserve the right to choose how to spend their money.