I'll be live-blogging the debate tonight, so tune in here at 7 pm Eastern for kick-off. Until then, here's everything you need to know to get ready:
FORMAT: Gone is the free for all PM-pile on. Gone is the round table. Instead, the focus will be on a series of one-on-one debates between the participants. The good news? This means we get to see Harper and Ignatieff go at it. The bad news? Half the one-on-ones will feature Gilles Duceppe, a man 95% of those watching the debates aren't able to vote for.
Once again, Steve Paiken will moderate and, once again, Paiken will do an outstanding job.
EXPERIENCE: By my count, this will be Duceppe's 7th English leaders debate, and the 5th for Harper and Layton. They're all pros, and we kind of know what to expect from them.
While Ignatieff was tested to varying degrees in the 2006 Liberal leadership race, there's a difference between taking questions from Hedy Fry on infrastructure and going all in against the Prime Minister. No one knows what to expect from Ignatieff, which means the pundits will be scrutinizing his performance more so than for the other leaders.
EXPECTATIONS: When I asked readers of this blog who the instant-polls would show winning the debate, the result was a split decision: Ignatieff 39%, Layton 24%, Harper 22%, Duceppe 10%
Here, as with the media, the expectation seems to be that expectations on Ignatieff are so low that he will win by virtue of exceeding expectations. Of course, this may have raised expectations on Ignatieff, making it more difficult for him to exceed expectations. Or the opposite.
WHAT HARPER NEEDS TO DO: Keep his cool. It's that simple. The one-on-one format could lead to some heated exchanges, and that's the danger zone for Harper.
HOW THE CONSERVATIVES WILL SPIN IT: "Despite the coalition gang-up, Harper stayed above the fray and looked Prime Ministerial."
WHAT IGNATIEFF NEEDS TO DO: In his Globe article yesterday, John Ibbitson says it will all come down to the 6-minute exchange between Ignatieff and Harper. It very well might. But I think the rest of the debate will be just as important. For most voters, this will be the first time they'll see Ignatieff outside of Tory attack ads. It will certainly be the first time they'll judge his suitability for the office of Prime Minister. He doesn't need to leave Harper stammering. He needs to look and sound like a Prime Minister (whatever that means), and make the case that his vision of Canada is better than Harper's.
HOW THE LIBERALS WILL SPIN IT: "This is the turning point of the campaign. Ignatieff had Harper on the ropes over the Auditor General's G20 bombshell."
WHAT LAYTON NEEDS TO DO: For all our jokes about "kitchen tables", Jack always comes across well in these debates - he sounds genuine and does a great job connecting NDP policies directly to voters. This time, I think Jack will need to be a bit more feisty in the one-on-one exchanges - the last thing he wants is for the debate's defining moment to be a Harper-Ignatieff confrontation.
HOW THE NDP WILL SPIN IT: "Jack Layton took on Stephen Harper and won."
WHAT DUCEPPE NEEDS TO DO: Show up sober. He really has nothing to lose.
HOW THE BLOC WILL SPIN IT: "Anyone have an update on whether Pacioretty has been cleared to skate yet?"
HOW THE MEDIA WILL SPIN IT: "There was no knock-out punch."
WHO WILL WIN?: The media will crown a winner. Myself, and every blogger out there will crown a winner. We'll find out 4 days later we were all wrong.
DEBATE BINGO: Click here for your card, to play along at home.
Labels: Leaders Debate