Leslyn Lewis’ campaign never requested or expected fellow Conservative leadership candidate Peter MacKay to withdraw from last night’s Independent Press Gallery of Canada (IPG) event, according to Lewis’ campaign manager.  

Mackay, who lives in Toronto where the debate was hosted, announced on Wednesday evening that he was backing out from debating the remaining candidates in the last minute after Lewis informed organizers that health reasons prevented her from attending. 

In his statement, MacKay wrote that he was withdrawing out of respect for Dr. Lewis and requested that the debate be rescheduled only hours before the event was set to begin. 

“I have great respect for Dr. Lewis and the positive and constructive campaign she has run. That’s why I propose that this debate be rescheduled. To be fair to all, I will not participate in a debate where she is not present,” wrote MacKay. 

In response to MacKay’s decision, Lewis’ campaign manager Steve Outhouse told True North fellow Sam Eskenasi that the campaign would have “totally understood” should the debate proceed as originally planned without her involvement. 

“We certainly did not ask Mr MacKay’s campaign to bow out. We would have totally understood if he continued to go on. We have participated in debates Mr. MacKay hasn’t been in and we’ve participated in events without other candidates present, other candidates have participated in things that we haven’t been in, so that was not necessary,” said Lewis’ campaign manager Steve Outhouse.    

“I understand that the written intent of it was out of respect for Dr. Lewis but certainly there was no expectation or ask on our part that he not participate tonight.”  

True North reached out to Lewis’ campaign for further clarification and was told that they had never asked for the event to be rescheduled.

“Leslyn and our entire campaign team understand the immense effort and expense that goes into putting on an in-person debate. We never asked the organizers or any of the other campaigns to consider rescheduling,” Outhouse told True North. 

“In our minds, Leslyn would either be well enough to attend the debate, or she would have to stay home while the other three took part. We understood that those were our two options, and unfortunately, Leslyn was required to stay home under the strong advice from her doctor.”

Despite the withdrawal of two candidates, the event carried on as two back-to-back fireside chats between moderator and True North fellow Andrew Lawton and the two remaining candidates Erin O’Toole and Derek Sloan. 

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