, 10.07.2019 12:33 PM

My latest: debate? What debate?

Here’s the thing about Monday’s leader’s debate, Canada.

You won’t be watching it.

Well, let’s amend that. Sun readers are a scrappy, elbows-up lot, who dig politics and a good scrap. Sun readers are likelier to be watching the debate. They like debates.

But most everyone else? They won’t be.

Everyone else will be watching Shark Tank (which this election kind of is) or Wheel of Fortune (which this election isn’t). Or, they’ll be binge-watching old episodes of Arrested Development (which neatly describes most of our federal political leaders).

Increasingly, voters simply don’t watch leader’s debates in Canada. For example, Maclean’s magazine put together a debate in 2015, but it had fewer than 40% of the viewers who took in the 2011 English-language debate. And Maclean’s actually counted people who only watched part of that debate, not all of it.

Master Chef got way more viewers.

Last time around, there was a Globe and Mail debate, too, and it was absolutely awful to watch. YouTube later found only about 400,000 Canadians did so. That’s in a country, in 2015, with 36 million people in it. Ipsos later did a poll and found only about 20% of Canadians watched the first couple debates in 2015.

There’s been one debate in 2019 that Justin Trudeau has deigned to attend. It was entirely in French.

Around 1.2 million Quebecers allegedly took in the TVA leader’s debate, in which Andrew Scheer, Jagmeet Singh and the separatist leader, Yves-Francois Blanchet, also participated. In a province with more than six million eligible voters, 1.2 million viewers isn’t anything to brag about, although TVA did.

Oh, and in English Canada — in English — nobody got to watch the French debate when it was happening. Because it was entirely in French. To get a sense of what happened, the vast majority of Canadians needed to check out the media after the fact (Widely-held consensus: the separatist guy won, hands down).

As someone who owns a public opinion firm — Daisy Data, at your service! — I can relate one empirical statistical fact: a dwindling number of voters watch debates from gavel to gavel. They may in take part of a debate, sure. But not all of it.

What voters do, instead, is watch the news media’s coverage of a debate. They’ll see a clip of a fiery exchange on TV, or they’ll hear a so-called defining moment on the radio heading into work, or they’ll read expert commentary in the pages of the Sun and hopefully nowhere else.

But they don’t watch all of the debate.

I’ve prepared prime ministers and premiers for debates, and I now know I did it all wrong. I assumed, as did my debate-prep colleagues, that everyone else watched the debates as closely as we did. That was a flawed assumption.

It also explains how Justin Trudeau was seen as a winner in the 2015 debates, even against two superior debaters — Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair. Trudeau’s strategy in 2015 was a lot like what he did in his celebrated boxing match with Patrick Brazeau: he waited in his corner for an opening, then he’d go in with a flurry of punches.

He didn’t try to dominate all of the matches — he just did what he needed to do to get clipped on TV, then he’d sprinkle the results all over social media.

It worked, because he knew that Canadians were more likely to see clips of a debate than all of a debate.

That’s what he’s going to do on Monday night, too. In an era of shrinking debate audiences, it works. Will the other leaders let him get away with it in 2019 like they did in 2015? Tune in and see.

Or, join everyone else, and go watch Shark Tank.

— Sun columnist Warren Kinsella will be providing debate commentary on Bell Media radio on Monday night


  1. Sure, Trudeau surpassed his rather low expectations in 2015. But this time, our expectations are high or to put it another way, he can’t be seen as having been on the ropes, even once, otherwise it’s a clear loss.

    Doubt Scheer can manage to land a solid blow but Singh will go in for the political kill early and my money’s on him to land quite a few doozies that will send Trudeau spinning.

  2. the real Sean says:

    There is so much fresh air between Justin’s ears, I think the government should pay me $2,000 to go camping there.

  3. John says:

    Twenty more years of Great Leader Groper, and then his son Dear Leader can take over. Just ignore that he wore blackface on numerous occasions, groped women, elbowed a female MP in parliament, fired a First Nation’s attorney general so he could break the ethics laws twice, etc, etc. Just adore his good looks and slightly wind blown hair. The Toronto Star urges everyone to vote Liberal.

  4. Steve T says:

    True, but also pathetic and sad. What a society we have become.

    No wonder complex ideas no longer resonate with people, and therefore don’t get support. That may have been the case for some time, but now it’s like we don’t even trust the experts who distill complex ideas into real-world solutions. We are more likely to believe a simplified falsehood told by a non-expert (eg: vaccines cause autism) than a complex truth told by someone with training.

    The left is just as guilty as the right in this area. Why else are (at least) two of the federal parties willing to essentially shut down Canada’s oil and gas sector, for the nebulous outcome of “solving climate change” (which it won’t actually do)? Because a simple answer resonates with lazy voters more than a complex answer.

    • The Doctor says:


      This is why I can barely stand to watch this campaign, despite being a lifelong political junkie. The level and quality of debate makes me want to projectile vomit. It’s like a continuous mass insult to one’s intelligence.

    • Vancouverois says:

      The debates have been nothing more than a cacophonic waste of time for a long, long time now.

      • The Doctor says:

        It’s not just the TV debates that are inane and insulting to one’s intelligence. The whole bloody election campaign is. The parties and their advisors have obviously concluded that most voters are complete idiots.

  5. Robert White says:

    Jagmeet Singh is the clear winner for the debate. Andrew Scheer is obviously a guy that eats kittens like Steven Harper does. Elizabeth May is the old guard politician of the bunch and I respect her position on the rights of women in Canada.
    What is glaringly obvious is that she is right that little girls need to see women leaders in debate for the helm in Parliament. She is wholly correct to point that out to all Canadians.

    Mad Max is mad as a hatter. Trudeau held his own and looks like the leader on LPC policy stance. He was prepped for debate well. Mr B. from Quebec has a nice voice but strange ideas about provincial autonomy & transfer payment obligations.

    Scheer will make a good standing but not enough to beat Mr. T. & LPC IMHO.

    Singh is a quality politician and well educated too.


  6. Nick M. says:

    The one line zinger heard across the Nation:

    “You are a phoney and a fraud.”

    MSM isn’t having difficulty using this headline.

  7. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Singh, May and Blanchet won because Trudeau and Scheer came off as more phoney than the others.

    • Fred from BC says:

      If that’s true, then we seriously need to scrap this ‘debate’ format and go with the logical one-on-one style, because not one of your three ‘winners’ will be our next Prime Minister. Sounds like you just wasted two hours of your time, Ronald…

      • Fred,

        Scheer made a number of amateur mistakes: first off, too preachy and judgmental. That’s for voters to decide but a lot of the Reformers just can’t help themselves. Second: When I’m Prime Minister…far too presumptuous for the undecided. Add to that that his climate plan is a certifiable joke and he lost ground last night. He should have talked about an eventual CPC oil and gas transition plan for Alberta but he pretends that the inevitable doesn’t even exist. He came off almost as phoney as Trudeau and Justin is hard to beat in that department.

        Don’t know if it’s enough to cut his majority to a minority. If so, Scheer has only himself to blame.

  8. Ontario John says:

    Well I’m glad that Groper kept reminding us during the debate not to vote for Doug Ford or Harper this federal election.

  9. whyshouldIsellyourwheat says:

    Singh had a chance to knockout Trudeau, but he was too nice to take it.

    On Bill 21. He should have comeback on Trudeau with: “There is no reason to take lectures on how to defend racialized Canadians from a rich white guy who cannot recall how many times he has worn blackface!”

    • phil says:

      Too nice? Perhaps he’s only as disingenuous as every other leader. He’s not stupid, has said he won’t support a conservative minority – he can’t possibly forfeit balance of power to the Green Party.
      Also while jabbing Trudeau may have lost him what is left of the orange wave in Quebec, it may have made him look good in 905 and Toronto enough to pave the way for a conservative minority.
      Simple math only one – the blue party will ever govern remotely to the right. No party will in a minority. The red party will govern more to the centre if the golden boy is replaced but will have to cozy to the left for power in a minority.
      So credit Singh with understanding the best scenario for team orange is balance of power.
      Disingenuousity – it’s how we campaign in Canada.

  10. Ontario John says:

    Gee Blackface Justin lecturing the NDP leader on human rights. Groper sure likes to put brown faced people in their place. If your planning on voting Conservative stay at home, because Liz May decided that the Conservatives can not win the election. And Groper must have been tired after the debate, because he only mentioned Doug Ford twice at the press scrum after the debate.

  11. Ontario John says:

    Groper is flying his TWO jets up north today. He will be ranting about global warming and Doug Ford.

  12. Alberta Steve says:

    There are countless ways to spin the debate. Here’s my take:
    Trudeau: Stiff, used prepared talking points throughout, as though he knew the questions. Butts’ convo last week with Althia paid off. Never directly answered a single question. Looked stiff & uncomfortable, as though he had some deep legal issues weighing heavily upon him.
    Singh: I actually like this guy, just not his politics. Promises lots of free stuff without any obvious plan how he will pay for it.
    May: Nice old cat lady. Again, lots of pie in the sky promises while destroying Canadian industries & infrastructure to pay for it.
    Blanchet: Quebec, Quebec, Quebec…as to be expected.
    Bernier: Not sure what he was doing here. Contributed nothing of import. Attacked Scheer all night leading me to believe that he doesn’t care about the greater election, just wants his revenge for losing the leadership vote.
    Scheer: Poised, calm, articulated his policies well and delivered the first damaging punch right up front, “Mr. Trudeau, you’re a phoney and you’re a fraud and you do not deserve to govern this country”, followed by “There is a vacancy for the Ontario Liberal leadership and if you are so focused on provincial politics, go and run for the leadership of that party.”
    While it is hard to pick a winner and a loser in these kind of formatted debates, Trudeau failed to impress, Scheer owned Trudeau’s ass from the start. The rest don’t matter.

    • AS,

      “There is a vacancy for the Ontario Liberal leadership and if you are so focused on provincial politics, go and run for the leadership of that party.”

      Yeah, that one was solid. No question about it.

    • Robert White says:

      Vote rich Ontario is a kingmaker in elections. If Alberta wants to win any fed election it had better understand how to capture vote rich Ontario & the Greater Toronto Area-GTA.

      Moving the Conservative plan towards the center of politics in Canada is the only way you will ever attain some semblance of power in Parliament, Alberta Steve.

      The rest always matters especially when it comes to the West in politics at the fed level.


      • Alberta Steve says:

        The Conservative plan is closer to center than it has ever been, regrettably. So much so that they are starting to look like the Liberals of the 90’s. I am all for give & take but to a point, otherwise why have different parties? There is nothing wrong being right of centre. Maybe we need to redefine what centre is?

        • Fred from BC says:

          “The Conservative plan is closer to center than it has ever been, regrettably. So much so that they are starting to look like the Liberals of the 90’s.”

          I feel the same. The last time this happened, Reform was born and the Progressive Conservative Party was destroyed.

          We just don’t need two Liberal parties in Canada. I wish the CPC could get that through their heads, because now Max Bernier is apparently the ‘real’ Conservative option.

          Oh, and just so you know, you are now the *fifth* ‘Steve’ on this website. All the others are cool except idiot Steve (you’ll know him when you see him)…

          • Fred,

            There’s real Conservative and then there’s R-E-A-L Conservative as in Harper’s majority mandate. Look how that one turned out in 2015? Most CPC members got the message, including the leader. Ask most people on the right if they prefer ideological purity or power? Guess which one wins out almost every time?

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