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Ibbitson replies: Should debates be mandatory for candidates?

The Globe and Mail's Ottawa Bureau Chief will be responding to a selection of reader comments throughout the election campaign. Today, John Ibbitson replies to your take on his piece about the tight-lipped Conservative campaign strategy and the importance of all-candidate debates ( Cone of silence tightens on Tories).

From reader ddsimao: It's interesting that the Conservative candidates in London West, Sault Ste Marie and Ajax-Pickering have chosen to shy away from debate and/or media opportunities. These are all tight ridings and I imagine they could use the exposure to get those few extra votes if they want to win.

From reader Oh Pin Yin 8 Ted: Shouldn't it be obligatory in a democratic society for all candidates to attend the all candidates meeting?

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From reader cunuckcit: I spent many years actively involved in election campaigns and local constituancy debates are pure theatre. Each party tries to pack as many partisian supporters as they can, into the venue.

Booing, heckling, chanting and cheering are the norm and one would be hard pressed to find 10% of the actual "audience" to be real bonifide undecided/uncommitted voters. They are much closer to a combination of mini rallies than anything approaching an actual debate. If you doubt these comments, attend one and see for yourself.

John Ibbitson: I've covered more than my share of local all-candidates debates, and it's true that the only thing you never hear at one of them is a short question. It's also true that they tend to bring out the partisans, although the nature of that partisanship differs depending on where you are. The questions at debates in rural Alberta speak to individual rights and smaller government; the questions in downtown Toronto focus on things like homelessness and public transit.

But these debates matter. Often they are televised, so those who don't get out to them can watch on local cable. And they tell things about the candidate. How does she handle a tough, even accusatory, question? Can she think on her feet or does she revert to the party line? Does she keep her cool or lose her temper? Debates tell you what kind of candidate you're looking at, not just what policies she espouses.

It is interesting that Conservative candidates in some key battleground ridings have decided not to attend debates. Others, though, such as Gail Shea in Egmont and Ryan Hastman in Edmonton Strathcona, have agreed to debate. It seems to depend on how the individual candidate assesses the situation.

Finally, as to whether candidates should be compelled to debate: absolutely not. It's a democracy, and candidates should be free to choose how they campaign, just as we are free to judge them on those campaigns.

From reader Midtown Bob: I went to the con candidate's website for Eg-Lawrence, the mannequin in the blue suit doesn't even have an email address so I can tell him what I think.

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Joe Oliver, my dog challenges you to a debate.

HURRAY!! Fido won by default!!

John Ibbitson: I'll bet Fido is a pretty formidable debater. Our dog Huck certainly brooks no opposition when he thinks it's time for a walk.

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About the Author

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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