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The six candidates seeking to lead the federal Conservatives were in Edmonton on Wednesday for the first official leadership debate in the race.

The prospective leaders are Ontario MPs Scott Aitchison, Leslyn Lewis and Pierre Poilievre, as well as former Quebec premier Jean Charest, Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown and Roman Baber, a former member of the Ontario legislature.

Their debate begins at 8 p.m. ET. It is the first of two official party-organized debates. A second, in French, will be held in Laval, Que., on May 25. The party’s executive director, Wayne Benson, said in a statement last month that the party is reserving the right to add a third debate in early August.

Former political journalist Tom Clark is moderating this first official debate. The statement issued by Mr. Benson also said that one week ahead of each debate, candidates would receive the list of topics to be covered in questions.

Five of the candidates participated in a debate last week held in Ottawa, organized by the Canada Strong & Free Network. Patrick Brown did not attend. It was a combative exercise – there’s a story here – which prompted some leading conservatives to warn about the need to reunite the party after the campaign is over.

But MP John Brassard, the official opposition house leader, on Wednesday downplayed the impact of high-intensity rhetorical conflict among the candidates seeking to lead the party.

“What’s wrong with vigorous debate?” he asked journalists when the issue was raised as he arrived for the weekly Conservative caucus meeting on Parliament Hill. “There are going to be a wide range of opinions expressed this evening. Is it going to get heated? Sure, every debate gets heated.”

He said he does not expect that the debate is going to “fracture the party” in any way.

Mr. Brassard said the Conservative caucus is united under interim leader Candice Bergen, and he expects it will remain united once the new leader is picked.

The leadership candidates have been campaigning across Canada, outlining their visions and seeking to recruit new members to support them. There’s a June 3 deadline for recruiting those new members.

The party is to announce the new leader, chosen through a mail-in vote, on Sept. 10.

Earlier Wednesday, the federal Liberal government announced policies on firearms – details here – and abortions – and here – leading to questions to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about whether he was trying to shake up the Conservatives on the issues.

“We continue to work on all these issues as we will but if the Conservatives want to talk about these things I think it would be a very good idea for Canadians to know where their perspectives are,” Mr. Trudeau told journalists as he arrived for a caucus meeting.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Ian Bailey. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

TODAY'S HEADLINES

GOVERNMENT FAILING TO QUICKLY BRING AFGHANS TO CANADA: OPPOSITION - Opposition parties are sharply criticizing Ottawa for failing to bring Afghans swiftly to Canada as some describe being tortured at the hands of the Taliban while awaiting the necessary documents to settle in this country. Story here.

CSIS FEARED CONVOY-LINKED EXTREMISM, HARMFUL ACTS: AGENCY HEAD - CSIS was concerned by the threat of ideologically motivated, violent extremism and the potential for serious harmful acts in relation to the trucker convoy, says the head of the national intelligence agency. Story here.

OTTAWA CHARTERS FLIGHTS FOR UKRAINIAN REFUGEES - Three flights carrying Ukrainian refugees are to arrive in Canada over the next month, Ottawa announced Wednesday. Story here from Global News.

QUEBEC ASKS OTTAWA TO CLOSE BORDER CROSSING - Quebec is asking the federal government to close a wooded border crossing south of Montreal because the province can’t handle the number of asylum seekers entering the country. Story here.

ONLINE PORTAL FOR DONATIONS TO UKRAINIANS IN WORKS - The federal government is set to launch an online portal for Canadian businesses to donate to Ukrainians who need help to get set up in Canada after fleeing war in their country. Story here.

ARSON SQUAD LOOKING AT FIRE TARGETING FORMER CABINET MINISTER - The Montreal police arson squad is investigating after a fire at a former federal cabinet minister’s residence destroyed two vehicles. The possible arson may be the act of anarchists. Story here from CTV.

VANCE EXPELLED FROM RMC ALUMNI ASSOCIATION - The Royal Military College Alumni Association has voted to expel retired general Jonathan Vance, Canada’s former top soldier, after his guilty plea for obstruction of justice. Story here from CBC.

COMMUNICATION ISSUES BETWEEN PUBLIC SERVANTS AND POLITICIANS: REPORT - Canada’s public service leaders have a problem telling the truth to their political bosses. A new report, Top of Mind, says they feel ill-equipped to gather evidence for policy advice, especially in a world where facts are distorted and drowned out by disinformation, polarization and hyperpartisan politics. Story here from Policy Options.

INDIGENOUS LANGUAGES `MARGINALIZED’: GG - Governor-General Mary Simon says Indigenous languages are “being marginalized all the time” across the country. Story here.

YEARLONG CELEBRATION PLANNED FOR LEVESQUE - Former Quebec premier René Lévesque will be the subject of a year of events to mark the centenary of his birth. The “Année Lévesque” - overseen by the foundation that bears his name - will be a chance for Quebeckers to remember someone “who dreamed big for Quebec,” said former premier Lucien Bouchard, honorary president of the commemorations. Story here from the Montreal Gazette.

HOUSE BACKS NDP PUSH - A push from the NDP to see the Liberals follow through “without delay” on their promise to implement a new federal disability benefit got unanimous backing in the House of Commons on Tuesday. Story here from CTV.

ONTARIO ELECTION:

LEADERS DEBATE IN NORTH BAY - Ontario’s four main party leaders took the stage in North Bay for their first debate of the election campaign, clashing over health care, housing and the pandemic but largely focusing on Northern issues, including highway snowplowing and the revival of the Northlander train service. Story here. Meanwhile, three of the four major party leaders are on the campaign trail on Wednesday. Details here.

LECCE APOLOGIZES FOR SLAVE AUCTION - Progressive Conservative candidate Stephen Lecce is apologizing after a published report about a so-called slave auction during his time as a fraternity leader in university. Story here. The original Press Progress report on this matter is here.

THIS AND THAT

TODAY IN THE COMMONS – Projected Order of Business at the House of Commons, May 11, accessible here.

NETHERLANDS PRINCESS IN OTTAWA THIS WEEK - Princess Margriet of the Netherlands is this week visiting the city where she was born while her mother and siblings were living there during the Second World War. The princess, travelling with her husband Pieter van Vollenhoven, will be in Ottawa from Thursday to Monday. She was born in 1943 at Ottawa’s civic hospital, the third daughter of Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands. At the time, Princess Juliana was living in Ottawa with her children, residing at Stornoway, now the official residence of the leader of the Opposition. Following Germany’s invasion of the Netherlands, the Dutch royal family went to England. Princess Juliana went on to Ottawa with her children, arriving in 1940. On Thursday, the National Capital Commission announced they will welcome the princess with a ceremonial planting of a new tulip bed at Stornoway. Among its gardening functions in the Ottawa region, the capital commission designs, plants and cares for tulips in the region in 120 beds across 30 sites.

DINNER WITH LATVIAN PM - According to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland’s itinerary for Wednesday, she is hosting a working dinner in Ottawa with the Prime Minister of Latvia, Krišjānis Kariņš.

THE DECIBEL

On Wednesday’s edition of The Globe and Mail podcast, former mercenary Sean McFate, now senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, talks about the Wagner Group, Kremlin-linked mercenaries who have operated in countries in the Middle East and in Africa as well, and are often trailed by allegations of human rights abuses. Several of the atrocities happening in the Ukraine war are being linked to the Wagner Group. Mr. McFate explains why mercenaries might become more common in the future and how Wagner members he speaks to feel about what they’re doing. The Decibel is here.

PRIME MINISTER’S DAY

The Prime Minister held private meetings, attended the national caucus meeting and Question Period, and was scheduled to meet on Parliament Hill with Louise Mushikiwabo, the Secretary General of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. On Wednesday night, the Prime Minister was scheduled to attend the celebration of life in Toronto for John Honderich, the former publisher of the Toronto Star.

LEADERS

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet held a news conference in the House of Commons.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh attended the NDP caucus meeting, held a media availability, participated in Question Period and was scheduled to meet with Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok.

PUBLIC OPINION

CANADIAN VIEWS OF ABORTION - According to an online survey by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies, about four in five respondents said they are in favour of a woman’s right to an abortion if she so chooses, while 14 per cent said they are opposed. Details here.

WHY DOUG FORD IS WELL POSITIONED TO BE RE-ELECTED - David Coletto of Abacus Data crunches the numbers on the Ontario election: If nothing changes in the opinion environment between now and early June, the PCs should win another majority. But the data also shows a path forward for either the NDP or the Liberals. Neither has a clear advantage among those people who deeply want to see the PCs and Doug Ford replaced.” Details here.

OPINION

Andrew Coyne (The Globe and Mail ) on the question of what vaccine refusal, blockades and bitcoin have to do with conservatism: “Very occasionally a party leadership race will turn on some burning question of policy. More often, they are brute contests of organizational muscle and name recognition, with little in the way of substantive issues at stake. But this Conservative leadership campaign is something else again, one that appears to be about neither the leadership – the party gives every sign of having made up its mind already – nor policy. Rather, at least to judge by last week’s candidates’ debate, the only issue is who can take the most unhinged positions on the fringiest topics.”

John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail) on how, in the first leaders’ debate of the Ontario election, party leaders paid no attention to the issue that matters most: “The candidates in the Ontario election campaign aren’t tackling the inflation issue. Perhaps that’s because, outside of housing, it emerged only in recent months, after campaign platforms and priorities had already been set. Perhaps it’s because there is so little any politician can do about it. When peace comes to Ukraine, the locked-down city of Shanghai reopens, interests rates rise a couple points higher and other stars align, inflation will start to cool, though the question for Ms. or Ms. Candidate then might be: How are you going to counter the recession? But this week, this month, inflation rages while there’s an election campaign underway in Ontario. You’d think politicians might notice. They sure didn’t during Tuesday’s debate.”

Konrad Yakabuski (The Globe and Mail) on how the Caisse’s light-rail dreams in Montreal are turning into a train wreck: “Public-transit projects are eminently political endeavours. Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec has discovered that the hard way, after its messy removal from a proposed $10-billion light-rail transit project to link downtown Montreal to the city’s long-neglected east end. Quebec Premier François Legault and Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante last week announced that the provincial transport ministry and two Montreal-area public-transit authorities would take control of the project, known as the REM de l’Est, in the face of mounting opposition from east-end residents and urban-planning experts to several aspects of the Caisse’s plan. The incident illustrates the pitfalls inherent in the $420-billion pension fund manager’s efforts to sell governments on its offer to build and operate infrastructure projects.”

Chief Joe Alphonse (Contributed to The Globe and Mail) on how connected and engaged Indigenous communities are the key to unlocking Canada’s full potential: “Yet even as the vast majority of Canadians leap into a future of lightning-fast hyper-connectivity, just 34.8 per cent of households on First Nations reserves across Canada have access to the minimum service levels set by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. Similar to the barriers Indigenous peoples face to education, health care and employment, we find ourselves barred from accessing reliable internet – isolating us further in this digitally connected world and impeding our progress in unlocking growth, prosperity and innovation in our communities.”

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