O Canada. You're so boring.
How boring? You know you're stuck in the 1960s and you don't even care! Why, four years ago, the main federal political leaders debated each other on TV before the election, and about 10 million of you tuned in for a first-hand taste of the democratic process! 10 million! Okay, this was before Netflix had crossed the border; maybe there was nothing else on TV that night.
But still! You didn't even seem to care that the debate adhered to the same tired format that every TV debate has taken since Trudeau père was elected. There were, like, no in-studio drone cameras! Your TV screen wasn't half-filled with real-time data aggregating your Facebook friends and tweeting neighbours! It was just two hours of the leaders, standing at lecterns, unloading on each other.
Snore! That's because the debates have been tightly controlled by a tiny society of Oz-like TV executives heading the so-called Broadcast Consortium: CBC/Radio-Canada, TVA (until this year), Global and CTV. And what do they know about good TV, ammiright? They only have, like, 95 per cent of the broadcast viewing audience! Thank goodness, then, that the Harper government, which never met a monopoly it didn't want to bust (except its own), took bold steps this week to challenge the consortium's control of the debates. (Never mind that the consortium has always said that any broadcaster is welcome to join its ranks.)
It invited competing proposals from other news organizations, thus ingeniously setting each traffic-hungry website against each other. (The Globe has taken it up on the offer. So has Bloomberg.) "We believe the diversity and innovation inherent in different debate sponsors and approaches is valuable," said Tory spokesperson and erstwhile Quebecor Media vice-president Kory Teneycke, whose track record of innovation includes innovating Sun News both into and out of its brief existence. His boss, too, knows his way around new media: As of Thursday afternoon, the Prime Minister had 3,438 YouTube subscribers, which is only a few thousand shy of Chuck, that nasally boy in your kid's Grade 7 class who posts videos of himself reading old Dilbert cartoons.
First up in the Tories' innovation plan? Accepting an invitation for a debate hosted by Maclean's magazine, that 110-year-old bastion of startup digital savvy. That debate will also air on the City TV network owned by Maclean's parent Rogers Media – which, sure, lost more than $80-million last year on its conventional TV operations, but that's probably only because Canadian viewers aren't keeping up with the network's pace of innovation.
But why stop there? Canada's broadcasters and other news organizations are full of savvy programming executives who would ransom their moms for a shot at demonstrating their creativity (especially if it means surviving the next round of job cuts). So we hacked into their servers and extracted the following supersecret plans for their own debate proposals.
Tell us what you think! Send us a fax!
CTV: The debate unfolds as an episode of MasterChef: Canada, but with more knives and backbiting! Contestants/leaders will begin by preparing appetizers (Kraft Philly Phyllo Cheesecake Tarts) while discussing their positions on the federal milk marketing boards. The second round will involve the preparation of a salad course (mushroom and arugula, with Kraft Extra Virgin Olive Oil Greek Feta Dressing) while debating whether the organic food craze is just a communist plot hatched by this country's media elite and whether anybody really likes kale. The final round, a surf-and-turf extravaganza, will be a choose-your-own-recipe, as long as the contestants/leaders each choose Kraft Zesty Italian Dressing. (We think we might be able to get Kraft as a sponsor.)
BuzzFeed Canada: New to this country, the upstart viral content factory will conduct its debate in an all-listicle format involving Tim Hortons, hockey, Canadian Tire, Lululemon, Smarties, Coffee Crisp, SCTV, Degrassi and Drake. It culminates in an all-Nickelback lightning round.
Global TV: Big (Political) Brother (and Sister) Canada. Alcohol, tight swimwear, chaise lounge, and a whole bunch of 'tude! Watch Justin Trudeau smack down Stephen Harper with his Talk to the Hand diss! Watch Stephen Harper have no idea what Justin Trudeau is talking about! Be riveted as Elizabeth May insists she only said that mean thing she said because she didn't get enough sleep! Be amazed as Thomas Mulcair manages to squeeze into that Speedo in the audience challenge!
VICE Canada: Moderated by VICE co-founder Shane Smith, this highly informal and hopefully very violent throw-down will unfold at Burning Man, where each of the leaders will harvest, dry and ingest their own peyote, whereupon they will each explain why non-married people and non-parents are evil. The debate's second round will involve the donning of beard baubles. (Mulcair naturally has the upper hand, though the other male leaders have the next 112 days to abstain from razors.) Round three? Naked sculpting.
The millennials will love it! At least that's what VICE will tell the ad agencies!