There has been much to do about Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s current position about the federal election debates as of late. Much of it is contempt and fury, signifying nothing. In fairness, I don’t think that he’ll long hold his “principled position” for any length of time.
Before I go any further, I’ll elaborate on my position regarding political debates.
They’re not debates, they’re wholly unnecessary and, more often than not, they make no difference whatsoever. Jack Layton tore a strip out of Michael Ignatieff last time out, but the Liberals were disintegrating, anyway. Before that, you have to go back to Brian Mulroney chiding John Turner about options and the proper exploitation thereof thirty-one years ago.
Proper debates are forums where the audience can actually hope to learn something from those debating. When was the last time that you learned anything from a televised election debate? If you know anything about anything, the answer is quite likely “never.” I learned more in the way of concrete facts from professional wresting as a kid, specifically that getting hit really hard with a folding metal chair hurts a bunch. People watch election debates for the same reason they watch stock car racing, to see some dude hit the wall and die horribly.
The debates are talking points contests, nothing more. And talking points aren’t reflective of leadership qualities. For example, al Qaeda isn’t likely to devastate the West with a zinger, nor is the economy going to be hobbled by a “gotcha question.” If you were to pay attention to the debates, to the exclusion of everything else, you might actually believe that Stephen Harper is conservative because he’s slightly to the right of the Liberals.
As a society, I believe that we’d be better off without political debates at all. You’ll learn more from re-runs of B.J. and the Bear than you will from the nonsense that passes for debates in this country. Canadian political debates are increasingly modeled after American ones, which is little more than a contest to see how much stupid can be packed into a six-second soundbite.
It therefore stands to reason that Harper is using the debates as some sort of mysterious political wedge. For as long as I’ve been alive, there have been two to three debates, presented by Canada’s major broadcasters, which Team Harper has ominously named “the consortium.”
However, the fact remains that the consortium is the only medium by which everyone in the country with an interest can actually see the debates in real time.
The Tories have accepted a debate invitation from Rogers Communications, for example. That would be great, except for the fact that, as a cable monopoly, Rogers isn’t available nationally. Just look at the greater Toronto area. Rogers dominates 416, but the Tory backyard of 905 is serviced mostly by Shaw.
But there’s the Internet, right? That’s where the Macleans debate comes in.
The federal NDP couldn’t have an online leadership vote in 2012 without their servers melting. Does anyone really think that Macleans’ site could handle the traffic of a live federal debate, despite its having a smaller daily audience than the good folks here at The Rebel? I don’t.
The strategy is insane for another reason. The consortium debates are clearly going to happen, with or without Harper. The only significant difference is the headlines the morning after. It seems to me that for some unknowable reason, the Conservatives would rather see a headline that reads “HARPER DODGES DEBATE, Trudeau Annihilated by Mulcair” than “HARPER WINS BIG!”
The Conservatives expect vote-splitting to bring them another majority, but if they follow the Harper strategy, it might not happen that way.
In an ordinary debate, it could be expected that Harper and Mulcair would join together to destroy Justin Trudeau. But if Harper is represented by a vacant podium, Mulcair gets those headlines to himself, particularly since he’s the only candidate on the record as being willing to debate anyone, anywhere, anytime.
Regardless of whether Harper is there or not, the consortium debates are going to be the only ones seen by everyone, everywhere, at the same time.
For lack of evidence to the contrary, I believe that the current NDP surge is real. If they take as few as eight seats in Alberta, British Columbia is likely to be a bloodbath, and Quebec will be a firewall. Seats in Toronto that are expected to go from the Conservatives to the Liberals (which is all but one of them) could go from the Conservatives to the NDP.
Suddenly, another Conservative majority doesn’t seem as certain anymore.
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