Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Modest Proposal (for the debates)

The two debates scheduled for #elxn41 have been concluded, though we still have 18 days to go. It struck me the other night that we can do better.

Putting aside all of the problems with "the consortium" (is it supposed to sound so nefarious?) and the way the debates are actually structured in terms of questions and topics, isn't it time we looked at the number of debates that are held and the location of the debates?

On Tuesday night, as the English language debate started in Ottawa it was 4:00 in the afternoon in Vancouver! Think about that for a moment. We hear so much about the growing importance of British Columbia, and the need for parties to make real gains in the province and break the typical 3-way split.

So what do we do? We hold the debate - one of only 2 times to see the Leaders engage with one another and lay out their vision for the country - while most people are at work or on a commute. It was not much better for Albertans, as the debate kicked off at 5:00 pm there (though Alberta is far from being a battleground given Conservative hegemony).

With that in mind, a proposal for next time:

- A minimum of three debates (two in English and one in French)
- One English debate to be held in Ontario, the other in British Columbia
- Debates are scheduled over three successive weeks; no more of this 24-48 hour turnaround

I would also propose the following, which is perhaps more controversial.

The first say 75 minutes or so would feature only the Leaders of the two largest parties - barring the unforeseen the Conservatives and the Liberals. These are the only two Leaders with any real chance of becoming Prime Minister. Let's hear from them about their respective visions for the country, and let them make their pitch to lead.

For the remaining 45 minutes the Leaders of the other main parties would be invited to participate. This would include those with representation in the House of Commons at dissolution (in the current scenario the NDP and the Bloc), but also those with significant levels of national support (the Greens in this scenario).

I know that for many (read: the NDP) this would not be acceptable. However, whether we like it or not Canadians are being presented with a choice between two prospective Prime Ministers. I for one want to hear them debate one another.

If this has to come at the expense of parties which may hold the balance of power, so be it. It's a trade-off/sacrifice I am prepared to make.

Finally, I would like to see the moderator(s) more engaged. There should be an opportunity for them to call the Leaders out on inconsistencies (we see enough of these through the fact checking and reality checks in play), personal attacks, etc. They should be more than timekeepers.

What are the odds of any of this happening? Likely pretty slim. Networks are being asked to give up air time for these debates and will therefore want to continue to control the structure. Parties will also favour the conservative approach currently used - it's safer.

I just think we deserve a better opportunity to have the choice presented and argued before us. What about you?


  1. Great ideas! I agree with most of them. Especially the timing of the debates. It struck me as I was watching that it was only 4PM in BC. I thought about how disgusted I would have been had I been in BC.

    I'd like to see debates on specific topics. Perhaps have debates in different regions in the country and discussing the issues concerning said area.

    I do not agree with separate english/french debates. If we are to be taken seriously as a bilingual country then let's stop the duality. It is expensive. All debates should be fluently bilingual, 50% french, 50% english.

    I completely agree with the moderator being more engaged. I want someone there calling BS, since the only ears hearing me yelling at my TV screen are my dog's.

  2. Thanks, Kendall. I like your suggestion about stopping the distinction between English and French debates. In this sense, make it like the House and have either language be rightfully seen as appropriate.

    I like the idea of more issues-specific questions. I think they tried this, but for my money could have done better. When we have very local questions being posed (which happened in the French debate) we run the risk of people tuning out. Like others, I found the format of the French debate better but the questions became very paraochial.


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