In a packed ballroom at Deerfoot Inn and Casino, 13 of the 14 Conservative leadership hopefuls took to the stage to sell their platforms and personalities to Calgary Tories Wednesday night.
“We have a big tent here tonight,” said Maxime Bernier, one of the candidates for the job. “We have fiscal conservatives, social conservatives. Everybody is welcome in our party.”
Taxes, opposition to Justin Trudeau, and a desire to find a winning direction for the party were common themes in the speeches from the candidates.
Absent from the event was businessman and reality television star Kevin O’Leary, who also chose not to attend a bilingual debate held in Edmonton on Tuesday night.
“It’s his loss,” said fellow challenger Lisa Raitt, who called O’Leary a ‘chicken’ on Twitter earlier in the week.
Format is irrelevant. Presence is mandatory. Suck it up and play by the rules. https://t.co/Hh6WImaPtc
— Lisa Raitt (@lraitt) February 27, 2017
“This room was electric and gave us great feedback, and there’s lots of ideas and hundreds of people who want to come and talk to the next Conservative leader of Canada, and I never miss that opportunity. I’m sad that he didn’t come for whatever reason, it’s his loss. But as you can see, we all functioned pretty well up there without him.”
Among those who did show up was Kellie Leitch. A video detailing her position on immigration policies went viral this week, with some mocking the production values and her performance. Leitch seemed nonplussed by the commentary on social media.
“I have an absolutely thick skin,” said Leitch. “I’ve had individuals in the media and a number of elites across the country basically attacking me since September. And you know what? That’s okay. We live in a free, open democracy. There is freedom of speech.”
Leitch is impressed with the statistics for the video, and said her statistics show over 1.1 million views on Facebook.
“I’m talking about the things average Canadians care about.”
Leitch said in addition to the videos she has already created, more will be posted in the future.