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Candidate Pierre Poilievre makes a point at the Conservative Party of Canada English leadership debate in Edmonton, on May 11.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre said he would remove the Bank of Canada Governor if he forms government, a breach of the convention that separates the central bank from elected politics.

Mr. Poilievre has repeatedly attacked the Bank of Canada during his bid to become Conservative leader but until Wednesday’s leadership debate in Edmonton, he had avoided saying what he would do with Governor Tiff Macklem.

The Ontario MP made the statement in his opening remarks of the only official English-language debate of the race.

“The Bank of Canada Governor has allowed himself to become the ATM machine of this government and so I would replace him with a new governor who would reinstate our low-inflation mandate,” Mr. Poilievre said.

He was one of six candidates that took part in a much more muted exchange than the animosity and vitriol that was on display at an unofficial debate held in Ottawa last week. Also running in the race are Ontario MPs Scott Aitchison and Leslyn Lewis, former Quebec premier Jean Charest, Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown and former Ontario MPP Roman Baber.

Late in the debate, Mr. Charest criticized Mr. Poilievre’s attacks on the Bank of Canada, calling them “irresponsible.”

“It creates doubt. If you’re an investor looking at coming to Canada and you hear that kind of a statement coming from a member of the House of Commons, you think you’re in a third-world country,” said Mr. Charest, who was also the leader of the former federal Progressive Conservative party in the 1990s.

“We cannot afford to have any leader who goes out there and deliberately undermines the confidence in institutions. Conservatives do not do that.”

Mr. Poilievre stood by his position, near the end of the debate adding: “I will fire the Governor of the central bank to get inflation under control.”

After the debate, Ms. Lewis said she was concerned by Mr. Poilievre’s comments and she respects the Bank of Canada’s ability to make non-partisan decisions.

“I don’t agree that members of Parliament should be meddling in the Bank of Canada,” Ms. Lewis said.

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Mr. Poilievre’s comments during the Wednesday debate are a major escalation in his rhetoric against the central bank. He has criticized the bank repeatedly over the past two years, arguing that rapidly rising consumer prices are largely the result of the central bank buying hundreds of billions of federal government bonds during the pandemic. The central bank, and most professional economists, disagree with this assessment.

The independence of central banks is a widely held convention because controlling inflation and maintaining the purchasing power of the dollar sometimes requires unpopular decisions that politicians might wish to avoid. This includes raising interest rates to slow down the economy when inflation is too high.

The government appoints a governor every seven years and sets the high-level direction for monetary policy every five years. The day-to-day operation of monetary policy – setting interest rates and controlling the currency – is then left to the governor and governing council. Mr. Macklem’s term ends in June, 2027.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s minority government has a deal with the NDP to stay in power until 2025.

The Bank of Canada has come under fire in recent months as inflation has accelerated to a three-decade high. Many Bay Street analysts have said the bank waited too long to begin raising interest rates, undermining its credibility as an inflation fighter and increasing the risk that people will start expecting permanently higher inflation.

The bank held interest rates near zero through the first two years of the pandemic. It has raised its policy rate twice since March and suggested that more rate hikes are imminent. This amounts to the fastest rate-hike cycle in decades, as the bank looks to cool the economy to bring demand back in line with supply and rein in inflation.

More than 1,000 people gathered in Edmonton’s convention centre for the debate. The crowd was loudly supportive of Mr. Poilievre in particular, despite being told not to boo or applaud during the event. Hosted by former political journalist Tom Clark, the candidates were asked for their views on the future of energy, the environment, the North, cost of living, abortion and law-and-order issues.

Particularly sharp attacks were levelled between Mr. Poilievre, Mr. Brown, Ms. Lewis and Mr. Charest. The latter two challenged Mr. Poilievre to disclose his personal position on abortion. He did not but said if he forms government, he wouldn’t change abortion laws in Canada.

Mr. Poilievre, Mr. Brown and Mr. Charest exchanged barbs over who could be trusted with their current policy promises that are different from past positions. For example, when he was Quebec premier, Mr. Charest was against ending the long-gun registry but he told CBC News on Wednesday that he personally didn’t have a problem with the federal Conservatives scrapping it. And Mr. Brown previously campaigned against a carbon tax when he was running provincially, he then proposed one, and now says he would consult party members on climate policy.

The Brampton Mayor pitched himself as the leader that can broaden the appeal of the Conservative Party, making it a multifaith, multicultural coalition. “I won in the GTA by proving to voters who have traditionally not supported the Conservative Party that their values are our values,” he said.

Mr. Charest stressed the importance of unity and said his federalist credentials during the Quebec separatist movement best position him to tackle Western alienation. He said he wanted to make the Conservative Party a place for what he said are millions of “political orphans” who are “looking for a national alternative and a Conservative alternative.”

Mr. Poilievre said he would unite the Conservatives around “freedom” and focused his pitch on pocketbook issues like the rising cost of living. He said he was running to “put you back in control of your life by making Canada the freest nation on Earth.”

Ms. Lewis condemned “wokeism and cancel culture,” which she said is “robbing people of their voices.”

Mr. Baber, as someone who was born in a communist regime, said he was worried about the state of Canada’s democracy and is running to defend it. Mr. Aitchison is positioning himself as the bridge-builder in the race and said the party needs to attract more people, but can’t do it with “angry rhetoric and attacks on each other.”

Instead of the nastiness of the past debate, Wednesday’s gathering took a folksy turn with Mr. Clark playing a sad-trombone sound whenever a candidate strayed from the debate rules, and featured questions about what the candidates are reading and binge-watching.

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