British Columbians should be thankful that organizers of Monday night’s English-language election debate thought so little of them they scheduled it to commence just when most people were heading home from work, and likely stuck in traffic.
They sure didn’t miss much.
In fact, this debate has to be considered the worst ever held. It was Twitter come to life, with all the attendant personal attacks and partisan talking points. The six – yes, six – leaders often spoke over one another to the point it often felt like a meaningless and prolonged rant. There would have been many junctures at which Canadians could have chosen to watch something else instead.
There have to be changes to the rationale that underlies the debate format.
There should never have been six people up on that stage. I understand that the Bloc Québécois has seats in the House of Commons, but this is a party that does not believe in one Canada as it exists today. They are separatists who think Quebec should stand alone. Yet, there was BQ Leader Yves-François Blanchet being given as much time to espouse his views as Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
If your standard for debate participation is a seat in the House of Commons, then I understand you have to include the BQ. But maybe that should not be the standard. And I would say the same about Maxime Bernier, Leader of the People’s Party of Canada. Why is someone with one seat in the House of Commons being given the same opportunity, in the one and only English-language debate, as the only two leaders with a realistic shot of becoming prime minister?
I’m sorry, but Mr. Bernier should not have been up on that stage. And if you’re going to ban him from taking part, then you have to administer the same harsh verdict to the Greens, which have only one more seat than the People’s Party.
Three leaders on a stage are more manageable. Three leaders on a stage are less likely to devolve into the chaotic, insult-filled brawl that we witnessed last night. I’m sure I was not the only person who watched and pined for debates past. While they certainly included their feisty moments, and the occasional need for a moderator’s intervention, they were far more civilized and constructive than the saloon fight we witnessed in Gatineau.
There were lots of zingy one-liners, with the best ones coming from NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who likely improved his standing the most after the affair was over. But with so many people on stage, and the obvious time restraints those numbers imposed on exchanges, the evening didn’t allow enough air for great moments to occur.
Moments such as Brian Mulroney’s “You had an option, sir,” to John Turner – a shattering line that stood out in a debate that was much quieter than the one that took place this week. Or Jack Layton’s “Why do you have the worst attendance record in the House of Commons?” to Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff in 2011 – a devastating critique that helped elevate the NDP leader in the national consciousness.
Instead, in this debate, we had the leader of the Conservative Party resorting to the kind of petty, schoolyard name-calling that only puts smiles on the faces of people who were voting for the Tories anyway. “You are a phoney and a fraud,” Mr. Scheer said to Mr. Trudeau, who he often referred to as Justin in what seemed like a calculated demonstration of disrespect.
There must be so many Canadians disappointed by the content of this debate. Here were the leaders spending an inordinate amount of time talking about Bill 21, the Quebec-only law forbidding the wearing of religious symbols by some public servants and not a second on the plight of ravaged economies such as Alberta’s.
I don’t think anyone in central Canada has any idea what it would have been like for people in Calgary to listen to Mr. Blanchet talk about making changes to an equalization program that would inflict even more pain on their province. (He suggested funding be tied in some way to a province’s greenhouse gas emissions and their efforts to reduce them.)
Did anyone in the debate even mention the Maritimes? Even once? What about farmers in Saskatchewan? How much time was given to their growing concerns, with the prospect of a recession looming on the horizon? Not a second.
No, this debate was truly one for the ages and not in a good way. The rules need to change. The leaders need to grow up. We all need to demand better.
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