Empty chair

De­bates for vot­ers, not politi­cos and TV brass

Cape Breton Post - - NEWS -

What if they gave a de­bate and the prime min­is­ter didn’t come? We’re about to find out. On Oct. 7, na­tional tele­vi­sion net­works will broad­cast a lead­er­ship de­bate in French. On Oct. 8, they will do the same in English. That’s about a week and a half ahead of the Oct. 19 fixed elec­tion date. And Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper will not par­tic­i­pate. Why?

It de­pends on whom you ask and what you read, but the bot­tom line ap­pears to be that this is a uri­na­tion match be­tween the Con­ser­va­tives and the ma­jor TV net­works, known as the con­sor­tium when they’re or­ga­niz­ing these joint TV de­bates. Back in May, cam­paign spokesper­son Kory Ten­ey­cke made it clear it was about the “sense of en­ti­tle­ment” the net­works felt as his­tor­i­cal over­seers of the de­bates. He said the Con­ser­va­tives would en­ter­tain all sorts of de­bate in­vi­ta­tions, but not from the net­works.

Later re­sponses from the Con­ser­va­tives have waf­fled some­what, with them now claim­ing it’s about the lack of suit­able dates and too many in­vi­ta­tions. But the fact is Harper’s chair on the de­bate stage – lit­er­ally and/ or fig­u­ra­tively – will be empty.

The Con­ser­va­tives aren’t the only ones crit­i­cal of the tra­di­tional de­bate for­mat. Many have cred­i­bly ob­served the de­bates tend to be stale, repet­i­tive and pre­dictable. The struc­ture typ­i­cally al­lows de­baters to fall back on tried and true at­tacks and re­sponses that are mostly sound and fury lack­ing in sub­stance. So the Con­ser­va­tives are not off base with their crit­i­cism or de­sire to try some new de­bates with new part­ners. They will do that part­ner­ing with Ma­clean’s mag­a­zine and French broad­caster TVA, among oth­ers.

Un­til their latest hard re­fusal to take part in the net­work de­bates, we were on the side of the Con­ser­va­tives on this mat­ter. What’s the harm in try­ing some­thing new? But they have made a ma­jor strate­gic er­ror by still boy­cotting the de­bates while the other lead­ers – Justin Trudeau, Thomas Mul­cair and Green leader El­iz­a­beth May – have agreed to take part.

Both the de­bate or­ga­niz­ers and the Con­ser­va­tives seem to have for­got­ten one thing: The de­bates are not for them, they’re for Cana­di­ans. By re­fus­ing to bend even a lit­tle and con­sider im­prove­ments, the con­sor­tium is act­ing high- handed and like, well, a car­tel. But the Con­ser­va­tives are mak­ing the big­gest mis­take. Be­tween the English and French de­bates in 2011, 14 mil­lion view­ers watched the lead­ers face off. The au­di­ence might be some­what smaller this time, but it’s still huge and in­flu­en­tial. By re­fus­ing now to re­con­sider, the Con­ser­va­tives ap­pear rigid and ar­ro­gant – char­ac­ter­is­tics, un­for­tu­nately, they are no strangers to.

For strate­gic rea­sons, and be­cause it’s not right to de­prive Cana­di­ans of a full- fledged de­bate with the in­cum­bent in at­ten­dance, the Con­ser­va­tives need to change tack and take part in the de­bates.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.