05.12.2015 10:01 AM

Debate-change, game-changer


“The federal Conservative Party says it won’t participate in the traditional leaders’ debates run by a consortium of broadcasters including CBC, CTV and Global and will instead accept up to five independently staged debates in the run-up to the fall federal election.

The decision by the Harper Conservatives appears to deal a serious if not fatal blow to the near-monopoly that broadcasters such as CBC have had in determining how federal political leaders square off before national votes.

Conservative campaign spokesman Kory Teneycke said the Tories have already accepted proposals for two new rival debates – one organized by Maclean’s magazine and its owner Rogers, and the other by French-language broadcaster TVA.

The Conservative decision now puts pressure on other federal political parties to follow suit.

The NDP said they have accepted the TVA and Maclean’s debate invites, as well as one put forward by an initiative on women’s equality called Up for Debate.”

Some of us predicted this a while ago – but now it has actually happened.

What does it mean? It means the Tories – and, I suspect, the Dippers – believe that Justin Trudeau is not going to do very well in those debates.  That he is going to make a mistake. That it is going to be, as one Grit recently said to me, “two men and a baby.” Why else make such a dramatic move, were not that the case? Why else do it, if you didn’t already know the Grit team is nervous?

To those of you doing Trudeau’s debate prep? No pressure, but the future of the Liberal Party of Canada depends on you, pretty much.


  1. GFMD says:

    Strongly suspect they want debates to reach fewer people – if they score a home run they can always mail out clips. Also suspect they will want at least one of the remaining debates to be hosted by a far-right organization, where only information supplied by the Fraser Institute will be accepted by the moderator.

    The other parties should be open to other debates but also participate in the broadcasters’ consortium debates. They will still have the widest reach. And if the PM won’t show for the biggest set of debates, leave a chair wide open for him.

    P.S. – The fifth debate is just Pierre Polliever reading trivial pursuit cards in a wing joint.

    • Matt says:

      Well, Rogers owns a crap load of TV channels across the country. And IF warren is correct on his reasoning for the Conservatives doing this, and I suspect he is, the CPC and NDP would want as many people as possible to see them.

      The debates now are too structured allowing for scripted answers and regurgitation of party talking points. Less structured, more free flowing debates means more non scripted questions and hopefully banter between the leaders. Off script = Disadvantage Trudeau.

    • Michael Bluth says:

      The debates will be broadcast on the consortium networks. They just won’t control the rules. The NDP and the Conservatives are on side.

      Getting the BQ and whatever that splinter Quebec caucus is on side will force the Liberals to join. Elizabeth May really hurt the Greens with what she pulled this weekend. She made the Greens irrelevant again overnight.

    • cgh says:

      What are you talking about?
      TVA has viewership typically about one and a half times the size of Radio-Canada.
      If you want “debates to reach fewer people”, TVA is not where you would go.

  2. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    Debate prep is essential. The candidate must be put under maximum pressure with rivals trying to get one in while breaking the rules. The ends justify the means.

    Everyone thinks Harper sank Ignatieff — but that’s wrong. Michael had not prepared for possible collatoral damage or one missile coming straight out of nowhere. It’s Jack that finished off Michael when he complained that Ignatieff missed 70% of the votes in the House of Commons. Loaded questions need to be anticipated but also effectively answered or else your name is suddenly Mudd…

  3. Bruce Marcille says:

    Nice conspiracy theory, GFMD. Too bad the debates are agreed to by the participants, the moderators are agreed to, and the PM cannot stack a deck. This isn’t Venezuela.
    PM did this because it stops Trudeau from claiming he did the two that count (French and English consortium) and doesn’t need to do the others. The PM has basically said, anytime, anywhere – and there are no minimums.

    Justin should be concerned – and start studying now. Mulcair is already sharpening his nails.

    It is being done for partisan reasons, but it is undeniably good for democracy.

    • GFMD says:

      If you think the party that pulled the “Fair Election Act” is going to be playing on the up and up, especially when they haven’t played their full hand on the matter, well, the CPC ain’t going after the smart vote.

      • Bruce Marcille says:

        Ooooh, the big, bad CPC is doing something! It must be nefarious. If they make the trains run on time, it must be so they can tie widows to the tracks without delays.

        Try hitting the pause button on the hyper-partisanship and accept that sometimes even the CPC can do things to benefit the country that even Justine Beliebers can have to credit. For example, JT already voted in favour of Bill C-51. Ha, ha, ha…….

        • GFMD says:

          “Ooooh, the big, bad CPC is doing something! It must be nefarious.”

          History would suggest, yes. Just going by the past actions of the party that brought us “well, we never really MEANT to follow that law we passed about fixed election dates”

          They could have approached the other parties with a full plan if they were on the up and up. Oh, and they could have done it any time after 2011….

  4. m5slib says:

    other theory… Justin is great at campaign rallies. having him boggled in debates means less time on the hustings which means the libs would be less effective if you take away or somewhat neutralize their best asset. Something tells me Justin won’t be as bad in the debates as everyone expects though. The debates aren’t about debating obviously, and I’ve been watching him in interviews lately, and he’s pretty good at staying on message.

  5. Robert says:

    Or Trudeau can accept the Consortium’s proposal. Maybe there will be no agreement on any debates at all.

  6. Matt from Ottawa says:

    The biggest problem I see Trudeau having in the debates kind of reminds me back in Uni. If I was unprepared for exams or skipped a topic for essay questions, I would know the direct answers and could add some fluff, but couldnt go into detail. And thats when the prof could smell the BS and grade me appropriately. I see a similar thing with JT. He has his basic talking points in check that the brain trust has told him. But you see it in a scrum, he does fine and answers questions. The second a reporter scratches the surface a little bit more asking to elaborate or questions something, you see him freeze up and thats when the “uh’s” come out. If this happens in a debate, he might have the direct answer, but if hes probed for more detail or thrown off, then hes in trouble. When I see Trudeau speak (and granted he is getting better) the second the “uh’s” happen I see that almost as the human equivalent of buffering.

    • Derek Pearce says:

      Meh, he can just repeat his talking points over and over. I have never seen Harper give a detailed nuanced answer in a debate but rather just stick to his talking points and it’s worked well for him, so…

  7. davie says:

    During the last federal election campaign I caught most of a debate on agriculture. It must have been broadcast by CPAC, but I think it was sponsored by a farm organization. The debaters were spokespersons for their parties on agriculture, minister and critics (I think) and the debate had solid substance to it. A lot of is was more like discussion of the issues, in some depth, rather than debating and scoring points. A person could get a good idea of the issues and the approaches of the various parties. At the time, I remember thinking that the debate had a lot more substance than any leaders’ debates I had seen .

    It crossed my mind that this would be really useful to us. A series of debates on , say, six or eight of the major areas of responsibility of our federal government, with specific spokespersons for each party taking part. That way, the ‘winning’ (or ‘not losing’)aspect of these debates would have less emphasis, and the analysis and proposed directions would get more emphasis.

  8. Zing says:

    Well, whatever the reason, and whether the motivations are good or not, it seems Canadians will FINALLY get more than one leaders’ debate in their first language.

  9. cgh says:

    It’s only partly about format and number.
    It’s also about giving the big three a good swift kick.

    Ronald, Jack’s 70% comment simply reinforced what the Tories had been saying for weeks: “Just visiting.”

  10. ajay kunar says:

    Trudeau will do fine. Mulcair and Harper will be doomed because they are going to bully Trudeau. Nice guys always win in the end .

    • Kevin T. says:

      I think he will surprise a lot of people, and the main tactic of the Cons and NDP and their respective supporters is to keep underestimating him in the hopes that it is true. Very much looking forward to this, and the more the better.

      • Pat says:

        He is underestimated and is sufficiently successful at achieving all the underestimation.

        I believe what Harper and Mulcair reasonably feel is that Justin is going to look like a boy trying to play with adults. Justin will likely confirm that notion.

        • terence quinn says:


          • Kevin T. says:

            Totally, but they’ll see inevitably. It is almost as if they believe no one can grow into a role, ever. It is not as if there is any history bearing lessons of that sort or anything.

    • sezme says:

      “Nice guys always win in the end .”
      Stephen Harper has been prime minister since 2006 by the way, so there goes that theory. But yes, by all means, go Team JT with the “being a nice guy” strategy!

    • Matt from Ottawa says:

      With all due respect, I could care less if the PM is a “nice guy” or a “friend” I just want the country to be run by the best available candidate. I have yet to decide who I am voting for, but JT is not impressing me. Harper and Mulcair seem to be the more serious and to me that is more important than being nice

      • eric weiss says:

        This. All of the qualities I look for in a leader, “nice guy” is pretty much near the bottom.

  11. Bill says:

    Quick, quick, the sky is falling

    Part XVII

  12. dave says:

    I wonder if Mr. Trudeau will again tell us “budgets balance themselves.” …………..LOL

    • Kevin T. says:

      Yeah, because math is hard.

    • GFMD says:

      Actually that’s another reason the CPC might want to have more debates watched by fewer people – people are less likely to see or remember any given moment, making it easier to edit soundbites into something completely different.

    • davie says:

      Well, within the last week , Poiilevre, in one of his repetitive strings of one liners during question period, offered that the employment insurance fund balances itself out over time.

  13. Matthew says:


    Why is Harper scared to debate Trudeau in front of as many Canadians as possible. Trudeau proposed 4 debates on every single television station in Canada and the Conservatives rejected it in favour of debates on lesser seen mediums? Not sure how WK will spin that one as Trudeau being scared to debate.

    • terence quinn says:

      He is not scared to debate but I don’t see him agreeing to Harper’s demands. if he rejects the Harper and Dipper proposals what will they do? He is the front runner and is not afraid to take risks. My advice to JT would be to tell them to stick it and have debates that meets all their needs not just Harper’s.

    • Matt says:

      So you think Harper is scared to do 4 televised debates from the consortium by saying he’ll appear in up to 5 debates from non-consortium broadcasters, having already accepted 2?

      Nobody has said the consortium will not carry the debates. They won’t be CONTROLLING the debates, setting the format, dictating the parameters ect.

  14. David_M says:

    Were there debates during the leadership campaign? I don’t recall.
    And did he perform well for those?
    For all the reviews about him being a good speaker, he never has really struck me as being a strong communicator but then, I’ve not really been impressed by Harper or Mulcair either.
    I guess I’m just a tough audience, not that any of them care what I think.

    • Matt says:

      For the Liberal leadership?

      Yes, several. Including one where Trudeau stormed off stage.

      Most however were like watching paint dry, and everytime someone tried to question Trudeau’s credentials/experience they were booed by the “crowd”.

      Martha Hall Findlay was forced, some believe by the Liberal party, to apologize for “attacking” Justin.

  15. debs says:

    ahhhh this is just all for show, Harper has no intention of doing that many debates, he will be busy running around other countries selling himself.
    debates are for losers and he has big plans to win the election without debates, strategies or support, or even votes, lol:)

  16. Gayle says:

    Just so I understand, the party that prohibits its candidates from attending candidate debates, and lead by the man who refused to debate either Dion or Ignatieff in more than one debate, and refuses to take questions from the media, and refuses to take questions from ordinary Canadians in a forum that is either scripted or unscripted, NOW thinks lots of debates and public attention is a good thing? Yeah, no one will see through that…

    But this does raise some interesting questions. How does Harper criticize Trudeau if he only wants to do one debate when Trudeau can use Harper’s own words from previous elections to counter him?

    And, better still, let’s say for argument that Harper and Mulcair are right and Trudeau is destroyed in the debates. So now the anti-Harper vote has to look for someone else. They may just settle on the person I suspect will come across the very best in the debates. I think the only winner on this issue is Tom Mulcair. He may follow in Rachel Notley’s footsteps after all.

    (personally, I think debates are a terrible way to assess candidates. I want to know how they will run the country, not whether they would score well in debate club. They cater to the laziness in us all – people prefer to make that assessment based on 2 hours of back and forth rather than on what is in the actual platforms that they would have to actually read…)

  17. Al in Cranbrook says:

    “Two men and a baby” sums it up pretty good…even if it is a tad harsh.

    One generally accepted consensus, even among his critics, is that Harper knows, acutely so, each and every file, some have said even better than his ministers. He is first and foremost, pragmatic, which appeals to the widest audience. No worries there.

    Mulcair can handle himself, but he is driven almost entirely by ideology. His core support will cheer for this, but not so much outside of that parameter.

    Sorry, but Trudeau is virtually reliant upon a script. He knows nothing about economics, foreign policy, or the every day challenges faced by middle class Canadians. He’s in for a severely rough ride…and if he loses it and goes off on one of his emotional rants, he’ll end up political road kill in a heartbeat. If I’m a member of the Liberal core, you bet I’m worried…a lot!

    Lastly, anything that yanks control of the debates away from both CBC and CTV is a good thing…albeit I dread the thought of this morphing into endless “debate nights” ad nauseum until hell won’t have any more of it, such as we saw in Toronto, God help us all!

    • Al in Cranbrook says:

      Speaking of “scripted”…


      “Benefiting every single family isn’t what’s fair.”


    • Priyesh says:

      Your description of Mulcair is more fitting of Harper. The guy treats tax cuts like they cure cancer.

    • Matthew says:

      I would agree with this. Harper does know every file. He knew the Duffy file down to the penny. He is a formidable foe. That is why I am surprised he is hiding behind Kory and the gang looking for debates that nobody will watch. Accept Trudeau’s challenge and debate on national TV.

  18. UFP Ambassador says:

    Justin was on script in the House today and couldn’t even pull it off – “Benefiting every single family isn’t what’s fair”. WTF?? Can’t wait to see the Shiny Genius debating Harper and Mulcair free form. You guys should be absolutely terrified.

  19. Kelly says:

    Nobody will watch these debates. there’s too many to keep track of, they will ne organized by media that relatively few people follow and Canadians will quicklt tire of them. Trudeau just has to do what Clibtonon did, give a superficial answer to the moderators question then look straight into the camera and repeat his canned talking points over and over. He does the same thing to Harper. People will just see edited clips, they wont watch the whole debate so just do nothing but repeat your points so there is nothing to excerpt but what you want repeated on the news. These debates will descend into chaos and thats what harper wants — he doesnt want canadians to take the debates seriously. This is called hiding right out in the open.

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