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Candidate Leslyn Lewis at the Conservative Party of Canada English leadership debate in Edmonton on May 11.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Leslyn Lewis has pulled out of next week’s official Conservative Party leadership debate, meaning that only three of five candidates plan to show up.

On Thursday afternoon, the Ontario MP’s campaign manager Steve Outhouse issued a statement saying the party committee organizing the leadership contest had been informed that Ms. Lewis would not participate in the third party-organized debate. In a follow-up e-mail, he declined to elaborate on the decision.

Earlier this week, Ms. Lewis issued an open letter saying she had reservations about a debate that did not deal with questions about subjects such as abortion, the World Economic Forum, the WHO Pandemic Treaty as well as an inquiry into the pandemic response and severe adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccines.

She said she was reluctant to take time away from meeting party members to attend a debate covering issues raised in the two previous debates, held in Edmonton and Laval, north of Montreal.

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The campaign for Ottawa-area MP Pierre Poilievre, considered the front-runner in the race, has previously said he will not attend a third leadership debate because he wants to focus on engaging with members instead of pausing for a debate – a concern that Ms. Lewis also raised.

Both candidates face the prospect of an automatic $50,000 penalty – or any amount deemed appropriate by the party’s leadership debates committee.

Former Quebec premier Jean Charest will be attending the debate as will Ontario MP Scott Aitchison and Roman Baber, a former Progressive Conservative member of the Ontario legislature, the party committee organizing the contest said in a statement.

Party spokesperson Yaroslav Baran said this week the request from Ms. Lewis for input into the questions was a non-starter, adding in an interview that it would be inappropriate for anybody to dictate what the questions are going to be as a condition for attendance.

The debate will be held next Wednesday in an Ottawa studio with no audience present. Part of the debate will be in French and part in English.

Michelle Coates-Mather, communications director for Mr. Charest’s campaign, said in a statement that they hoped Ms. Lewis and Mr. Poilievre would reconsider their decisions to not attend.

“So long as [the leadership election organizing committee] moves forward with the debate, Mr. Charest will absolutely be there to discuss issues that matter to our Members and Canadians and debate real solutions to tackle these issues,” said the statement issued after Ms. Lewis’s announcement.

Jamie Ellerton, the campaign manager for Mr. Aitchison, said the Parry Sound-Muskoka MP welcomes the opportunity to engage with Conservatives and Canadians during the debate “and hopes fellow candidates will show members the respect they deserve.”

Mr. Baber’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday’s development.

The next debate was organized because of a vote by party members. Last week, the Conservative Party tweeted that 65 per cent of members voting on the question of whether to hold a third debate had supported the idea, out of a total of 24,000 members.

The new leader will be announced on Sept. 10, concluding a race that began when Erin O’Toole was voted out by his caucus in February.

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