The 14 contenders for the Conservative Party leadership held a debate on the big stage at the Manning Centre Conference in Ottawa today, using a fresh format that pitted contenders against one another in small groups instead of letting all the candidates fight it out at once.
Each group on Friday afternoon had its own policy area to battle over, which left some candidates adrift from the issues they have tried to use to define their campaigns.
In the first exchange, Conservative MP Kellie Leitch was tied together with fellow MP Erin O’Toole and former Tory MPs Chris Alexander and Andrew Saxton to debate social programs and health care.
Alexander said it was a myth that Tories don’t care for social programs, and he promised to deliver plans to end homelessness and poverty in Canada, while O’Toole pledged to bring back the Tories’ universal child care benefit because, he said, the Liberal child benefit wasn’t working.
Leitch said the best social policy was to ensure everyone had a job and that government spending was under control. She promised to cap government spending and to ensure public sector pay was in line with the private sector.
Saxton also homed in on the economy and jobs as an answer for how he would manage social policy, promising to introduce a national apprenticeship program for white collar industries.
Leitch, a pediatric surgeon, drew on her experience working as a doctor to argue that she has ideas for innovation in the health-care sector that will improve the delivery of services. She quickly came under pressure from O’Toole, who challenged her to back up her claims.
Leitch responded by touting her years of experience, saying she has been publishing papers on how to innovate the health sector since 2002 and O’Toole was welcome to read them.
Former Conservative MP Chris Alexander chimed in, saying “the problems [with health care] are not too difficult for mere mortals to understand.”