Wednesday, March 30, 2011


"We should have a great debate, Rob. We owe it to everyone."
-President Bartlet

Whether or not we get a Harper-Ignatieff debate remains to be seen, but we got to see the trailer for it over Twitter today.

It all started this morning when, out of the blue, Harper issued a challenge:

"We're open to any number of possibilities. We could have a traditional debate of Parliamentary leaders, we could have a debate that includes Miss May in such a format, we could have a debate that includes every party that's on the ballot," Harper said.

"We could also have a debate between Mr. Ignatieff and myself, since, after all, the real choice in this election is a choice between a Conservative government or an Ignatieff-led government that all of these other parties will support," he said during an Ontario campaign stop.

Gauntlet thrown down.

Ignatieff wasted little time accepting:

@pmharper A one-on-one debate? Any time. Any place.

Which in turn, led to this from Harper and his former chief of staff:

@M_Ignatieff curiously, my team proposed 1:1 to TV consortium today; however, your team did not speak up.

Lib negotiator singing a different tune to debate consortium. Looks like Libs not serious about 1:1. Give Eizenga a 1:1 mandate #elxn41

And, of course, Jack Layton would not stand for a conversation not about him:

I remember the '08 debates @pmharper. Don't blame you for not wanting to face me again. #elxn41 #cdnpoli #ndp

So what should we make of this? Well, I personally love the idea of a one-on-one debate. I liked the idea when Tom Axworthy proposed it as part of a report on how to improve debates in Canada and and I still like it today. When all is said and done, there are two leaders who can become Prime Minister after this election, and Canadians deserve to see them go head to head. We can certainly have a round of debates involving the full cast, but there's something to be said for adding a final Thunderdome-esque duel.

Now, perhaps I'm arguing in favour of this with my partisan blinders on because, truth be told, this looks like manna from heaven for the Liberals. The Liberal campaign has been all about contrasting the Liberal vision of Canada with Harper's, and they've made no secret of their goal to squeeze the NDP and Bloc. They've had trouble getting their message out, and this would give them the perfect venue for this.

Moreover, if Ignatieff is still standing after a 12 round boxing match with the PM, he goes from the "Just Visiting guy" to a legitimate candidate for Prime Minister.

All of this begs the question of why Harper would ever make the challenge - the follow up tweets suggest this was not a slip up, but rather something the Tories genuinely want to see. This may very well be the first time a candidate 15 points up in the polls has been looking for more debates.

There are a few possible explanations for Harper's brashness. In a one-on-one debate he doesn't have to worry about an opposition gang-up. He gets an extra 15 minutes to talk about the undemocratic coalition. He might honestly believe he can wipe the floor with Iggy. If he is playing a game of "majority or bust", maybe he doesn't give a damn about squeezing the Bloc and NDP, and sees this as his opportunity to put his destiny in his own hands.

Those are all possibilities, but this strikes me as one of those times Stephen Harper is trying to play chess on a checkers set.

Regardless of Harper's motivation, both him and Ignatieff appear ready to rumble. Let's make it happen. It would make for great TV.

UPDATE: The broadcasters set the debate format, Michael Ignatieff re-iterates his interest in a one-on-one debate, and Harper backs down. Personally, I think they should just rent a legion, get some podiums, and stream the whole thing online.



  • I'd love to see it.

    And you're right, this proves that Harper's attitude is "Majority or Bust."

    As for Ignatieff, forget the coalition - if he doesn't win more seats than Harper, his career's finished. He triggered this election, he HAS to win, or he's done.

    It makes sense for Harper, for Ignatieff, and especially for voters. I hope they make it happen.

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 12:02 a.m.  

  • Perhaps there will be a real debate. No yelling and name calling. There would be order, such as those real debates in sharing of ideas - like taught in High school and other learning institutions. I would look forward to watching/listening to this debate.

    I also think that the Bolc should NOT be involved in National debate - his only goal is to separate or destroy Canada. He has nothing to offer Canadians outside of Quebec. I am interested to know if he will accept Alberta's "dirty oil" money in the transfer payments.

    By Anonymous Clown Party, at 12:24 a.m.  

  • You have THE tiniest partisan blinders of any partisan I know of

    Id watch this debate. I like it as a supplement to an all party debate... Harper is rite, there's only two choices before us
    (altho I think in a US style election, Layton would walk into the PMO with a standard Tory/Lib/NDP/Bloc House)

    By Blogger Jacques Beau Vert, at 12:35 a.m.  

  • If you're going to go Thunderdome, why not Harper vs. Ignatieff's, with a miniature Jack Layton on Iggy's shoulders?

    By Blogger french wedding cat, at 12:47 a.m.  

  • I see only two reasons why Harper would have wanted (Past-tense, Globe reports that unsurprisingly it's not going to happen) a 1-on-1 debate...

    1: He thinks he could use it spin it as part of the false option that he harps on about... that's he's not debating the Leader of the Liberal Party but the Leader of the eeeeeevil cabal.

    2: He genuinely thought that he could mop the floor with Ignatieff so why get ganged up on in every debate when you could have one 1-on-1 and get a "win".

    Frankly, I don't think it would have worked out for him (Harper) in either case. Harper isn't a great debater... he's not terrible but not impressive either so I doubt he could mop the floor with Iggy and that being the case all he would have done is give an opponent he's tried desperately to define on Harper's terms a big public platform to refute that definition.

    Harper got lucky that it fell through.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:21 a.m.  

  • So we are only allowed to vote for either of two corporate stooges for Prime Minister? Very presumptious of you CalgaryGrit

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:22 a.m.  

  • Vote for whoever you want.

    From, roughly, 1986 to 1988 the NDP polled as well as the Liberals and the Tories. Broadbent and Sears and the campaign team fucked up over Free Trade and lost their chance to overtake the Liberals as the Opposition. (That plus Turner managed to do a great job for the length of a debate and a week before Allan Gregg and the Tories bombed Turner's bridge.)

    Aside from that brief moment in time? The only two parties with any plausible chance at government have been the Liberals and the Conservatives. That is not going to change this election.

    They might both be corporate stooges (and perhaps the NDP or BQ can win in your riding, giving you… two more somewhat less obvious corporate stooges to vote for) but which one do you like more? Vote that one.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:50 a.m.  

  • People can vote for whomever they want - the Pirate Party won't be in the debates but you can still vote for them. Neither will Andre Arthur or Helena Guergis.

    But, the fact is, only 2 men can realistically be PM, so having a one-on-one debate in addition to the other debates makes a lot of sense. If the NDP ever pass the Liberals in the House or in the polls, you could make the case for them to get one of the podiums in the one-on-one.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 3:00 a.m.  

  • And heck, who says they can't do it, just because the media consortium ruled it out?

    If Iggy and Harper want to debate, pick a venue and stream it online. If anyone in the media wants to cover it, they're welcome to. If not, we can all watch online.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 3:04 a.m.  

  • You missed another and most likely option -- it was a faux offer, meant to look manly and contrast with the bookish Ignatieff; the CONs whole campaign now depends upon attacking Ignatieff, it's the Ignatieff Liberals, they are using his "I speak for the Liberal party" soundbyte... they think that's the winning secret (and certainly Ignatieff's artificially low popularity would suggest its smart). However, i'm still eager for Canadians to wise up; Harper has a tendency to kick himself in the final weeks of a campaign and as he starts muzzling his candidates, removing himself from the media's reach, that kind of elusive behaviour could come back to bite him, as it falls in the area that the opposition is painting him. We shall see, but right now wells' tweet suggested Harper buckled when he couldn't get the consortium to dump one of the all-party debates. In other words, ploy played. Well done, Mauer... [not]

    By Blogger rockfish, at 3:51 a.m.  

  • It was Mr.I who laid down the challenge on Tuesday...answering a question he said he would like to debate Harper toe to toe.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:59 a.m.  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger leonsp, at 10:09 a.m.  

  • 1. Harper is evil.
    2. Two party systems are evil.
    3. A two party debate delegitimizes the other parties and promotes a two party system.
    4. Therefore, Harper would be for it because it's evil even though it's strategically bad for his party.

    By Anonymous Yildo, at 10:10 a.m.  

  • Here's what I don't understand:

    Who cares about the media consortium? How hard would it be to get a studio, some lights, an agreed-upon mediator and format, some cameras, and do it up as an internet-only debate.

    Why are we beholden to the networks, exactly. It's the do-it-yourself age. Surely, someone, somewhere, who thinks this would be great would be willing to fund it and put it on youtube?

    Don't you think?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:30 a.m.  

  • "How hard would it be to get a studio, some lights, an agreed-upon mediator and format, some cameras, and do it up as an internet-only debate."

    Given that Harper refused a proposal for an additional debate 1-on-1 and without him it'd be a 1-on-0 debate I'd say that it'd be pretty hard.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:42 a.m.  

  • Geez Dan
    It took you almost a week for your first West Wing reference --you're slipping.

    By Anonymous Deputy Dan, at 11:55 a.m.  

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