Jordan: Today is the day Canada’s 43rd federal election officially begins, and tomorrow you’ll finally get to hear from the people who want to be your prime minister. Oh, I know it feels like you’ve been hearing from those people for months already, but you actually haven’t you have been hearing from their speech writers from the people who do their policy from their ad gurus and from their social media team. You know what that sounds like.
Campaign Clips: I got into politics to help people like the people I’ve served here in Papineau for more than a decade. People tell me I’m different from the other leaders and I am from coast to coast. I hear the same thing people are getting by, but they aren’t getting ahead. I believe the government should work for all of us, achieving the goal of protecting our children’s future so you can get ahead, not just get by.
Jordan: Tomorrow, you get them on stage taking questions. They’ve not been briefed on defending their proposals, attacking one another directly live all of them in front of a studio audience, except not all of them.
News Clip: Just six days until city TV teams up with McLean’s for the first leaders debate before the federal election. Justin Trudeau has declined to attend, saying he will participate in two debates organized by the Leaders Debates Commission, as well as one with a private French language television network.
Jordan: So you’ll be seeing the people who want to become your prime minister, but not the guy who’s already got the job. Why isn’t Trudeau there? It depends on who you ask. But it’s not the only debate the prime minister plans to mess, and that is certainly a change from the last time around. So why are we talking about official debates this time? And what are they who chooses them? What factors into a leader’s choice to make or miss one of the unofficial debates? What should you be looking for from the leaders who are there? And will it hurt Trudeau who be off somewhere else, campaigning while his rivals attack him live on television? I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings, and this is the big story. Cormac McSweeny is our guy on Parliament Hill. He covers the hill for Rogers radio and for City News. When he joins us by Cormac
Cormac: Hey, Jordan, how’s going?
Jordan: It’s going very well it’s almost debate season it is. I’m getting excited. So how many official debates are there? And how soon and how often do we actually get to hear properly from these leaders in front of a real live studio audience?
Cormac: While the official debates, if you will, the ones that were put together by the Debates commission set up by the government, There will be only two of them. There will be one in English and one in French, and the one in English is taking place on October 7th. The one in French is taking place on October 10th and boast both of them are happening in the Napa National Capital Region, actually, of the Canadian of Museum, Canadian Museum of History in ah, got No, just across the river from Parliament Hill. And that’s where the federal leaders will be squaring off.
Jordan: But there is a debate tomorrow night, right?
Cormac: Yes, there is. Um, so I mean, you know, we use the term official debates, but ah, you know, last election we had a number of different debates. And what exactly is official in that way? I just like to say that they’re the debates. Those two debates of the ones that are being set up by the Debates commission. We also have a number of private media companies who have pitched their own ideas for debates. Ah, City TV and McLane’s and and City TV is a Rogers property and were owned by Rogers eso. We’ll get that out of the way. But City TV and McLane’s do have a debate taking place on it will feature three of the four major party leaders. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is not going to be attending, but just like in 2015 the City TV, McLane’s debate will be the first out of the gate in this sort of election season. We also have a couple of other debates that were pitched the monk debates. They’re gonna be hosting one in Toronto based on foreign policy and foreign affairs on then TV Ah, which is a Quebec television network. They will be hosting one as well, but the prime minister will not be at the debate tomorrow.
Jordan: Why not? And was he there last time we did this?
Cormac: Yes, he he was. And actually many believed that his performance in the City TV McLane’s debate was impressive better than most people had expected and was a big turning point in the campaign right out of the gate for the Liberals, you know, in the lead up to the 2015 election campaign, the new Democrats were the official opposition, and under Thomas Mulcaire, they were seen as the big contenders against Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. It wasn’t quite clear where the Liberals would go, and in 2015 the Conservatives said, I believe it was. One of their campaign staff said to the media that if Trudeau shows up with his pants on, ah, he’ll have won the debate. They set expectations pretty low for Justin Trudeau, and he actually had a pretty decent showing in that debate. He you know, if if it weren’t for those lower expectations, hey, might not have been seen to have been as big of a winner as he actually was out of that. But he showed up with his pants on, and then some with with that debate and it really started that momentum for the Liberals. Ah, and he had a couple of really good clips that that made the news that really helped the Liberals out in the rest of the debates that that continued afterwards and the momentum built from there. And they jump from third party status, a two government in one election, which was the first time that I believe that’s ever happened in Canada.
So that was a big debate for the Liberals, and yet they’ve decided not to take part in this one. The reason being given by the Liberals is that they think that there should be on Lee to debates. It’s the reason why they set up the Debates commission in the first place. And so they felt that the 2015 strategy by the Conservatives was to try and split up audiences to avoid scrutiny and prevent a momentous like moment from happening and to try and stop Ah, the opposition parties from having one big debate that would really shift the campaign. They want to get it back to those bigger moments. They say that they can reach more Canadians through the official debates because those are run by a consortium of media companies. But, you know, there remained questions about whether that’s true or not. In this day and age of of streaming and Internet access across the country. Almost anybody can watch anything that streamed online. But nonetheless, that’s the reason why the Liberals say they will not be attending this city TV, McLane’s debate or or the monk debates. But they have, however, agreed to take part in the TV Ah, debate, which is going to be happening shortly before the the so called official debates so, that’s the reason why they say they won’t be attending this, But there might be more than that. You know, there are a lot of experts who have weighed in as to why, and some of it might be strategic. One factor is that when you’re launching a campaign and your crisscrossing the country, do you really want to be bogged down by debate prep and taking yourself off the campaign trail? It’s a big question to ask, and every campaign has to decide whether it’s gonna work for them or not. Clearly, all the other party leaders feel that it’s gonna work for them, and they’ve agreed to do the monk debate as well as the city TV, McLane’s debate. But for the liberals, they don’t think that’s the best strategy, because it does, you know, especially in a shorter campaign. This could be a short as the minimum 36 days. You know it’s gonna take you off the campaign trail quite a bit, and it’s gonna keep you in Ontario, which is a key battleground. But for the liberals, they want to try and hit up BC and Quebec a little bit more. There are others who say that the prime minister is kind of playing the strategic game, that that the liberals are accusing the conservatives of playing in the previous election and trying to make sure that everything works to their benefit. So the least amount of debates means the least chance that the opposition has to really take down the government, and they could be more prepared for less debates. Um, and this is an incumbent government. The liberals are now in power. They’re not the third party trying to seek out as much press as they can get. Their gonna have a much more guarded campaign to try and protect the leader and protect the parties so that they can get re election.
Jordan: So you’ve kind of alluded to it a couple of times, but I want to know more about the leaders Debates commission. Who created it? Who controls it? Is it controlled by the government? And if so, how fair is that?
Cormac: It was set up by the government, Um, and not necessarily controlled. It’s meant to be an independent commission that doesn’t really have political involvement. It was set up last year by the government to try and set up these debates in the last. In the 2015 vote, we saw the departure of the typical consortium debates and those, you know, in many elections. Before that, you had a series of media networks sort of team up tau host. The two big debates and typically was two, maybe three, debates that we’re having an election campaign, depending on the length and what the Liberals wanted to get back to. Was that so they set up this debate commission. They put David Johnston in charge of it. This is the former governor general, somebody who also had had run and moderated some pretty famous debates in the past. He was the moderator for that in the famous showdown between Brian Mulrooney and and John Turner, and that debate really did a shift. The campaign away from the Liberals and John Turner in and really helped helped out Brian Mulroney. But nonetheless David Johnson led up the commission. They got a team together. They looked at the best ways to do this and and how to host the debate on. They’ve decided to bring in again a consortium of media networks to take part in this and help moderate this debate. And we’re gonna have those two debates October 7th and October 10th
Jordan: What of the other party leaders or parties in general and saying about the debate commission and the quote unquote official debates. Are they happy with them? I know they might not be happy with the number, but are they happy with how that’s come together in general, or are there accusations
Cormac: there haven’t been any major accusations? We don’t have interest here in the conservatives launching campaigns against the debates commission or anything like that. I think when they were setting this up, Um, there were some questions from some MPs who were trying to suggest or allude to the fact that maybe the government was trying to set up the debates in their favor. But those those criticisms have not been, you know, heavily pushed by the opposition parties in any way whatsoever. And I mean, it’s it’s hard for them to try and accuse this debates commission of being, ah, partisan leaning commission when you have somebody, The former governor general who was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the conservative government of the day to be the governor general. So you know, if you trusted him to be an unbiased, intelligent person, to be the queen’s representative of our country, surely you can trust him to be an unbiased, intelligent person to run a debates commission. And he’s got history at running debates in the past as well. So he did seem like a pretty perfect choice for the job, and we didn’t see the criticisms really, you know, really ramp up in any way in the lead up to all of this. But the criticisms that the opposition has is not about the debates commission. It’s about the other debates. The city TV, McLane’s debate, the monks debate and, ah, the TV automate And really, the biggest issue is not about how these debates are gonna be run. It’s about who’s taking part.
Jordan: What’s gonna happen in those debates when the prime minister is not there. How do you have a debate without him? What would the ah, other party leaders strategy? Maybe be going into that debate without a person to take on?
Cormac: Well, I guess there are hoping that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be a big punching bag and they will be, you know, at every opportunity, likely bringing up the fact that he’s not there to defend his record on and He won’t be, which might be an issue for people who will be watching the city TV. McLane’s debate. You’re going to hear, ah, lot of accusations from the opposition leaders, and they all have their own issues that they want to bash the prime minister about, Ah, and they’ll take every opportunity to do that. I know. In conversations with Paul Wells, the moderator of this debate, he said he’s not gonna let any party leader off the hook, regardless who of who ends up showing up. And so he’s gonna be holding all of them to task. And if you saw the 2015 debate, you know that he did that. So as much as you know, conservative leader Andrew Sheer or NDP leader Jagmeet Singh or Green Party leader Elizabeth May will be maybe trying to target the prime minister for not showing up. I think they’re gonna have to answer for their own policies as well, and whether they have shortcomings or whether they could be taking some different strategies to deal with some of the important issues that are facing Canadians. They’re gonna have to answer to that as well. So even though you don’t have the prime minister, that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be a a very informative and very important debate. Let’s look at it this way as well. Right now, there’s a huge fight for the progressive vote in our country. The NDP and Greens are struggling in the polls when it comes to the overall picture, but the NDP really will want to try and take on Elizabeth May in the greens because right now a lot of the support the NDP is losing is bleeding to the greens. So as much as the greens are far behind, they’re actually seeing a bit of a surge overall from historic support and so while they’re gaining some steam, the NDP is at risk of losing more support to the greens. And so Jagmeet Singh will not just be targeting the prime minister. He’ll be targeting Elizabeth May. And both will be targeting Andrew Sheer because they want to be seen as the new progressive alternative to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals. They’re gonna be going after all those voters who are disappointed with the Liberals and the last four years who don’t think that Justin Trudeau lived up to the promises, or at least the hype that they had in 2015. And they’re looking for an alternative right now. We haven’t seen any single alternative that people are really rallying behind. Ah, but that could change potentially with debates like the City TV, McLane’s debate. So we’ll have to see how it plays out. But it’s a very interesting dynamic going into it, with or without the prime minister involved.
Jordan: What do you want to see from Andrew Sheer in this debate? Because when I think about the optics of it, you know he wants this to be a two person race where he can, you know, beat up on Trudeau as much as possible. But when he’s on stage with two leaders who are way behind him in the polls. Does that make him kind of look like one of a gang, as opposed to like the opposition?
Cormac: Well, that’s one of the optics that could play into this, and possibly one of the reasons why the prime minister decided not to take part in this debate. Um, exactly the scenario that you say they’re Canadians will see the prime minister off doing whatever he’s going to be doing during the debate or on the debate day. And you’re going to have the other party leaders all kind of lump together. And so that’s That’s something that they’ll have to try and make sure they have their medium lines ready to go to try and make sure that they don’t look like it’s. Andrew here is just another one of the opposition members and not prime ministerial. He’s going to have to appear prime ministerial on that stage, and that’s what he’s going to want. He’s gonna have to separate himself from Elizabeth May and from jug meet Sing to try and make sure that that he leaves the best impression with the voters who tune in. But at the same time. You know, there are a lot of questions about conservative policies about the conservative platform coming up, like all elections journalists. And I think a lot of Canadians want to dig into some of the details of what these plans are and usually during elections. Ah, lot of the plans we get from the parties are kind of egg. They don’t have all the details. It’s not like they’re putting forward a piece of legislation where you can sift through every tiny little aspect of it. You’re getting, you know, sometimes a few paragraphs, maybe a page, maybe a little bit more than that, depending on where the party wants to show its strength. And there are rightfully so a lot of criticisms for every party when they release their platforms. And I think there will be a lot of questions about trying to get some exact details about where the conservatives stand on a lot of issues and this goes for the NDP and the greens as well.
Jordan: Well, here’s the thing. So they’re gonna have to explain their plans and defend their plans. Do we have any sense yet? If deciding not to attend these debates is hurting Trudeau because, you know, I know that the city McLane’s debate is put on by Rogers, which also ah, which also owns the Big story and your radio stations. But I don’t care who it’s hosted by the first reaction I had to, this was there’s a month and a bit before the election. I want to hear from my prime minister, and maybe that’s just me. But it was like a pretty visceral gut reaction. I have to say,
Cormac: Yeah, I mean, the 2015 election was kind of unique with the number of debates we had. We normally don’t have that number of debates federally through our elections, but I guess depending on how you see it, 2015 was amazing. It was a good change for our country or, you know, as a liberal’s, I guess, yet they want to move back to less debates throughout, You know, politically again, I think there’s something to be said about strategy, of keeping a leader on a campaign trail, hitting the writings that they need to hit where they’re competitive, where they need to make sure that they they meet with the locals and and get and leave the best impressions to help some of those candidates and push them over the top. But also, you know, you want to make sure that you’re leaving a good impression on the national stage as well, and you’re reaching as many Canadians as you can. And, you know, there’s a very valid argument to be had that the more debates, the better put. Put your political leaders to the test, have them duke it out over important policy issues that actually matter to Canadians. And so there is that debate to be had, whether it’s gonna hurt the prime minister or not. I mean, I guess that remains to be seen in the polling that will be done after the McLean City to debate. But in the lead up to this, we have not seen any significant impact one way or the other for the Liberals and ah, the conservatives. We haven’t really. They’ve been deadlocked for weeks and weeks now at the head of the Poles, and so far we have yet to see them actually really have us drop or a pickup as a result of this debate debate.
Jordan: My last question is, let’s say we do see that after tomorrow night’s debate, and the polls reflect the fact that Trudeau wasn’t there and everybody beat up on him. How firm is the commitment toe on Lee doing? Ah, the two official debates and the TV debate. Would you wonder if something would change if, ah, he noticed some negative results?
Cormac: I’m not sure how flexible they’ll be to changing their strategy on the debates. Um, it seems like the Liberals are pretty clear and we won’t really have. And I don’t think there are any proposed debates that are supposed to be taking place after the debate commission debates. And so it would take somebody stepping up to propose a debate following those for them to reconsider if they needed to. But that’s a risk. A cz well, for the liberals, if they have a poor showing in the one English debate that they’re attending and most of Canada is in English Canada. And if there’s a big problem for the prime minister, he’ll have to wear that until voting day, and they’ll have to do damage control afterwards. There will be no chance for redemption, I guess, if that ends up taking place. But Maybe the liberals are calculating and I don’t know this, but maybe they’re calculating that the best damage control will be to get the prime minister on the campaign trail and addressing media on their campaign plane rather than actually going toe to toe with some of the opposition leaders again. But it’s a it’s a risk. It’s a political risk. And any time a party decides where they want to take part in terms of debates, they’re always making these political calculations behind these decisions. And this is, I guess, the risk that the Liberals are willing to take.
Jordan: I guess we will see if ducking the public pays off. Thank you, Cormac.
Cormac: We will indeed. Thanks very much. Appreciate being here.
Jordan: Cormac McSweeney from Parliament Hill in Ottawa. That was the big story. For more from us, we’re at thebigstorypodcast.ca. We are also on your Twitter. At least we are if you follow us @thebigstoryfpn. And we are in your podcast application if you have one. And if you’re not, you’re listening to this on a Web browser, if you are doing that, then open your favourite podcast application and subscribe for free. You get every last one. Thanks for listening. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. We’ll talk tomorrow.
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