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Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe, left, greets Conservative Party Leader and Prime Minister Stephen Harper after the French-language leaders' debate in the 2011 federal election. (POOL/Sean Kilpatrick/Reuters)
Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe, left, greets Conservative Party Leader and Prime Minister Stephen Harper after the French-language leaders' debate in the 2011 federal election. (POOL/Sean Kilpatrick/Reuters)


Why did they can my favourite election show after only two episodes? Add to ...

The biggest question raised by political leaders' debates is why we don't have more of them.

Close to four million people watched the English-language debate on Tuesday and more than 10 million watched at least a portion of it. To give you some idea of how ridiculous the argument that people don't care about the election and the debates in particular is, the highest-rated show on Canadian television is Dragons' Den, which pulls in 1.8 million viewers. More people watched the English-language debate than watched the Grey Cup.

All four party leaders presented well during the debates. Stephen Harper was occasionally peevish and disengaged on Tuesday night but still cool, controlled and articulate. (Did you know he is focusing on the economy?)

He was pretty much absent in Wednesday's French-language debate - maybe this was a strategy, and perhaps not a well-chosen one. At times, Mr. Harper looked as if he might wander off the mid-seventies-hued set altogether. Perhaps he wanted to leave before a fondue party broke out, or perhaps, like me, he had a sudden urge to rent The Ice Storm. But his vacant air was hardly fatal.

I understand why incumbents are reluctant to debate, but watching Mr. Harper debate, the choice to have him so cloistered from the media made little sense. Who decided to run him as Canada's Sarah Palin?

Michael Ignatieff seemed tired and frequently canned on Tuesday, but on Wednesday he knocked it out of the park - if only that were a hockey metaphor: The only real casualty of these debates was the exhausted and broken hockey metaphor, which was finally put out of its misery after a long run during the French-language debate. RIP, Monsieur Hockey Metaphor.

Jack Layton was overly faux-folksy on Tuesday but impressively combative on Wednesday - as well as more sincere-sounding. And Gilles Duceppe was arguably the most alert and agile both times. No one can be said to have lost and, especially in the French debate, there was some real discussion and less posturing. Think of it as a good second date.

I think we need 90-minute debates. Two hours is too long. Debating is hard work. But we also need a bare minimum of four of them. This process should be bigger than picking the next Maria for The Sound of Music and no one who expects to govern Canada should be allowed to say no, for any reason, to four measly 90-minute debates during an election campaign.

Ideally, the debates should be bilingual, because I didn't hear a lot of discussion about the minutiae of, say, New Brunswick infrastructure on Tuesday night, and yet the issues around Quebec's Champlain Bridge were seemingly given a longer airing than nearly any other topic on Wednesday night.

The point to debates in both French and English is that Canada has two official languages and, mercifully, a lot of translators. And in both official languages, for the record, whenever Mr. Harper talks about maternal health, he sounds like a vegan giving a recipe for beef bourguignon

The six questions asked of the party leaders that came from "Canadians" were selected from more than 4,000 submissions. Something about this process seems to lead to some vague, loaded and inaccurate questions - like the question on crime on Tuesday that implied that crime is on the increase, which it is not.

"Many of the values promoted in Canada seem to come straight from the Republican Party in the United States … ," asserted a questioner during the French debate. That is not a part of a good question; it is a part of a lame YouTube comment.

I don't see why we can't have questions from "expert Canadians" too. I'm not convinced that anxious-looking people standing outside wearing parkas have any particular monopoly on curiosity or moral authority. Without specific questions on policy and vital follow-up questions, a debate is going to be pretty superficial.

In fact, it's a credit to all four leaders that these debates rose above talking points and carefully prepped zingers as often as they did.

I'd like to see a debate on the economy, a debate on foreign policy, a debate on health care, a debate on education and child care, and a debate on immigration. I know that's five debates, but why the hell not? I could listen to these guys all night.

Seriously. We should never allow this two-debate thing to happen again. We should make this an issue. To me, it feels like Firefly has been cancelled all over again.

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Follow on Twitter: @TabathaSouthey

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