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: @M_Ignatieff
@pmharper A one-on-one debate? Any time. Any place.
Which in turn, led to this from Harper and his former chief of staff: @pmharper @cpc_giorno
@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: @jacklayton
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.
Labels: Debate debate