‘You’ve got to unite the party’: Kenney reminds Conservative leadership hopefuls after tense debate

In reflecting on the jabs traded at the first unofficial Conservative leadership debate, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says it’s important for all candidates to remember their job of unifying the party.

In an interview on CTV’s Question Period airing Sunday, Kenney said it was a “feisty” first face-off, with candidates attempting to carve out their position on contentious issues like vaccines, pandemic lockdowns, and political polarization.

“My advice to all of the candidates would be to remember…whoever wins, you’ve got to unite the party at the end of it, and try and be respectful,” he said.

“It’s okay, I think to draw policy contrasts and some contrasts on record, but I think that my advice would be do that knowing that you’ve got to reunite the party.”

On May 5, five of six candidates participated in the debate hosted by the Canada Strong and Free Network, a political advocacy group founded by Preston Manning, the former leader of the Reform Party of Canada.

Patrick Brown was not present.

All six contenders will go head-to-head for the first party-sanctioned English debate on May 11 in Edmonton, Alta., hosted by former political journalist Tom Clark. They’ll meet again on May 25 for the official French debate in Laval, QC.

Kenney said Canadians are more interested in hearing about the candidates’ vision on key policy issues as opposed to attacks on fellow competitors.

One hot topic on May 5 was abortion access and appealing to the social conservative base more broadly.

Jean Charest said that the faction of the party is “part of our family and they need to be respected,” though he’s been vocal about his pro-choice stance.

Lewis, who is promising to ban sex-selective abortions, accused Poilievre of avoiding media questions about abortion in recent days after the leak of an initial draft decision indicating the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade.

“He cannot just be a minister of finance if he wants to be a prime minister,” she said.

Poilievre said earlier in the week that a government led by him wouldn’t introduce or pass laws that restrict abortion.

Topics for the two official debates will be sent out to candidates one week in advance of the event.

With a file from The Canadian Press.

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