In the days ahead, Conservative party leadership hopefuls will be filing into Calgary alongside other public figures for the busy politicking season that is part of the annual Stampede. But as most candidates square off in a downtown debate shortly after the Stampede parade ends on Friday afternoon, Pierre Poilievre will be at a nearby party with entrepreneur Brett Wilson.
Mr. Poilievre, considered by many to be the frontrunner of the Conservative leadership race, is the special guest at the PrairieRowdy 2022 Stampede event. In an early invitation, the event was framed as one “supporting the Conservative Party of Canada.” Mr. Wilson wrote to invitees to say sponsors were covering PrairieRowdy event costs but guests were encouraged to contribute to Mr. Poilievre’s leadership campaign.
However, in an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Wilson said the event had shifted instead to be a fundraiser for adolescent mental health, his longstanding philanthropic focus. He said there were questions about whether Brett Kissel’s performance at the party violated maximum allowed contribution limits during leadership contests.
In the original PrairieRowdy invitation, viewed by The Globe, Mr. Wilson wrote “our country truly deserves a leader who can run it with the respect and freedom we Canadians deserve,” and Mr. Poilievre “needs our support to become Canada’s next Prime Minister.”
“Pierre asked me to convert the fundraiser back to what I’d normally do, which is adolescent mental health,” Mr. Wilson said.
“We’re still showcasing Pierre,” Mr. Wilson said, adding that he has been friends with Mr. Poilievre for almost a decade, after they were seated together at a business group’s dinner in Montebello, Que.
“My contact network, you can bet they’ll hear from me,” Mr. Wilson said. “Pierre’s a leader. It’s that simple.”
Mr. Wilson, a former investment banker, is hosting the event at Ceili’s The RoofTop, which he co-owns. He has long been a controversial figure in the province.
In 2018, he called for anti-pipeline protesters to be hanged for “treason,” later describing their actions as “undermining our nation.” In 2020, he tweeted that Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi had won his 2017 re-election because he played “the race card,” a comment for which he later apologized. He has been a harsh critic of the Trudeau government and its energy policies and has long expressed support for Mr. Poilievre.
Mr. Poilievre is slated to speak at the PrairieRowdy event at about 3:30 p.m., following a performance by Mr. Kissel.
Meanwhile, other CPC candidates will be participating in a debate beginning at 3 p.m. organized by the Western Standard, a Calgary-based news and opinion site, at the nearby Calgary Petroleum Club.
Western Standard publisher Derek Fildebrandt said Tuesday four candidates have confirmed their attendance at the Friday debate: Jean Charest, Patrick Brown, Roman Baber and Scott Aitchison. But late Tuesday night, Mr. Brown was declared disqualified from the leadership race, with the partyciting “serious allegations of wrongdoing” by Mr. Brown’s campaign that appear to violate financing rules in the Canada Elections Act, according to a statement by election committee chair Ian Brodie.
“Quebec has already had one debate focused almost exclusively on issues of importance to its people, and the Western Standard’s leadership strongly felt that the four western provinces deserved a debate focused on issues of importance to people here, which are too often ignored on the national stage,” Mr. Fildebrandt said.
He added that Mr. Poilievre’s team has said he won’t attend the debate, but the invitation remains open.
Mr. Wilson said he has respect for all the leadership candidates, but doesn’t believe Mr. Charest, a former premier of Quebec, will ever respect the west.
He added that, although he agrees with almost all of Mr. Poilievre’s platform, he has debated some issues with him – including the leadership candidate’s promise to “defund the CBC.”
Mr. Wilson, who appeared on the public broadcaster’s Dragons’ Den more than a decade ago, told Mr. Poilievre “instead of saying defund the CBC, why don’t we say, ‘hold them accountable, and make them transparent.’ ”
Mr. Wilson said Mr. Poilievre’s time is scheduled down to the hour on Friday and that he was only allotted 30 minutes with Mr. Poilievre himself.
Leslyn Lewis is the other CPC leadership candidate who is not attending the debate. The debate had previously been scheduled for July 9. She tweeted that she will be in the Territories this week, and was unable to change her travel commitments once the debate was moved to July 8.
Mr. Poilievre’s team wasn’t immediately available for comment.
Two official party debates – one in English and one in French – were held in May.
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