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Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff greets supporters at his campaign headquarters in Toronto on Friday. (Reuters)
Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff greets supporters at his campaign headquarters in Toronto on Friday. (Reuters)

John Doyle: Television

Silly debates, disgraces and mournful faces Add to ...

Another week, then. Another week in this election campaign, another week of promises, attacks and atrocious play acting. You know, when we look back on the election, if we ever do, we'll remember it as a series of TV moments. We always do. And what's on the horizon this week? The election debate tomorrow, that's what.

Previous columns by John Doyle

All election campaigns are essentially the selling of people and policies mainly through television. But the leaders' debate is where TV and politics truly intersect. And what has happened on this occasion, with the TV broadcasters blithely excluding Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, is a disgrace.

Of course, our broadcasters, in their staggering arrogance, probably don't want really want a televised debate at all. It cuts into their revenue. No ads, no lucrative simulcast of a U.S. network show. In the CBC's case, the broadcaster wants the debate out of the way - if there must be one - before the Stanley Cup playoffs begin.

In a country of this size, where telecommunications links and unites us, there should be several debates during an election, not just one in each language. In a country noted for its regulation of broadcasting, it's bizarre that no regulation exists to ensure that election debates are aired under formal rules. Instead, a small group of broadcast execs resentfully arrange one debate in English and one in French. They decide who takes part, they decide on the date, to suit themselves. Anyone who doesn't like this seat-of-the pants planning is out of luck. In the United States, to its great credit, there exists a formal process for presidential debates on TV.

And then there is the matter of the style and content of the TV debates. Again, in this area, we suffer by comparison with the U.S. The seriousness of American presidential debates is truly admirable and, often, our leaders' debates look silly in comparison.

Often, the tipping point in any election - both up here and down there - is the TV debate itself. Because at its best and purest, television coverage isolates and highlights the strengths and flaws of individuals. It goes to the core. It can push aside propaganda and posturing. You'd think our politicians knew this. But election after election, the debates tend to descend into bickering and masquerade, like a Dragons' Den from hell. This is, in part, the fault of the ill-defined debate format. Still, it is must-see TV - an election event from which nobody can be evicted. Except Elizabeth May, of course.

To date, as seen on TV, the medium that matters, this has not been a gripping election. Photo op after photo op. Announcements of giveaways, tax breaks and policies coming in an avalanche to the point of utter confusion. Con men and fools turning up as candidates. Among the iconic images: the mournful face of Laureen Harper as she endures yet another tightly scripted appearance with Hair in the Fridge; Iggy getting jiggy at an event in Montreal, so excited he was skipping across the stage, and Jack Layton looking so tired you wanted to shout at the screen, "Let the man have a nap!" At times, try as he might to hide it, his face looks as mournful as that of Laureen Harper.

TV reporters shouting questions at Hair in the Fridge from behind a barrier that appears to be about two miles from the man. The loudest voice is heard. Pity the ace reporter, man or woman, whose voice can't carry over the two miles. The CBC's overhyped and vaguely ludicrous Vote Compass. CBC says, "Vote Compass is an online tool aimed at engaging Canadians in party platforms and policies. Do you know where you stand?" It's utter nonsense, the politics version of that dubious Body Age Test, part of the overhyped Live Right Now campaign recently. It's a marketing tool for CBC News, one of those faux-inclusive tactics to connect with viewers.

And yet, it might get more interesting as a TV event before it's over. A week from today, Sun TV News is launched. You can find a trailer for it online. Oh, my dears, it is ostentatiously comical. Soon, apparently, we'll be treated to Ezra Levant flapping around on TV, like an old man's pyjamas blowing in the wind, and braying "We're going to shake things up - we're going to turn some heads." That's what he says in the trailer. Also announced in the trailer: "As the day ends, the night begins." With news like that, the channel is something to look forward to, isn't it?

And with that I leave you. Away to Ireland, specifically for the Cúirt International Festival of Literature in Galway. To talk soccer, writing and such. The great Buck 65 and yours truly are the Canadian reps. Wicked and weird, as Buck says. Back before election day. Promise. Mr. Andrew Ryan will be your guide for a while.

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

 

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