By Alexander Campbell
Special to The Cheap Seats
It will come as absolutely no shock to anyone that our political debates in this country are absolutely lousy.
They do an incredible disservice to voters. The highly structured time regulations and question screening make them a festival for sharing talking points. They are, in no way, debates.
This is true in the United States as well. Americans invented the debate consortium and the egg timer restrictions on candidates.
Brits have often crowed that few American Presidents could stand up to the rigours of Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs). I’ve often thought this to be a kind of posh, patrician arrogance from the Mother Country.
Then I watched this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VE5HFj-qCdg
For those of you unable to watch the full 90 minute video, it’s an audience of one hundred people made up of equal parts Labour, Liberal Democratic, Tory and Undecided voters putting questions directly to each of the Leaders for 30 minutes straight with BBC moderator David Dimbleby largely free to follow up on whatever question he likes.
I tried to imagine Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau, Thomas Mulcair, Tim Hudak or Kathleen Wynne surviving this format. I don’t think any of them could.
News emerged this week that the federal Conservatives had opted out of the Television Consortium debates in favour of debates sponsored by individual networks.
The Tory argument for this is that it could result in five Federal Leaders debates which would be a record. The Liberals, according to their spokesperson, believe this is the Tories attempting to keep as many Canadians as possible from hearing from Stephen Harper.
Both arguments are stupid.
More debates is only better than fewer debates if they’re better debates.
As in the video above, the most pointed questions posed to David Cameron and Nick Clegg were posed by their own supporters.
Cameron was forced to answer direct questions over Britain’s future in the European Union – an issue of serious importance for Tory voters – while Clegg was forced to answer a question about a broken promise from the 2010 Election campaign.
Can you imagine a debate where an Afghan veteran gets to ask Stephen Harper directly about Veteran’s services and a moderator – say Steve Paikin – gets to challenge Harper’s original answer if it’s insufficient?
How about a debate where a Tibetan refugee gets to ask Justin Trudeau about his praise for China’s system of government?
It would be nice if, for once, we got to see our leaders talking to us instead of at us. It would be nice if they were challenged instead of repeating the same canned answers to questions no one asked.
So, let’s stop haggling over the number of debates. Let’s make the debates we have better. Otherwise, we’ll just end up with five nights of ‘Must-Snore’ TV instead of one.
Senator Alexander Campbell was campaign manager for Sir John A. Macdonald, the sixth lieutenant governor of Ontario and not the actual author of this blog. The actual author has asked that his name not be made public at this time and has chosen Alexander Campbell as a pseudonym in part to recognize Sir John’s 200th birthday