It was just last week that I went into the news surrounding the Federal Leaders debates, who was in and who was out as of that moment. In that piece I mentioned the about how 2015 was different because we saw multiple debates organized by multiple groups, beyond the usual major English and French debates. One of the questions going into this campaign was whether that would happen again this time, or would we go back to the old standard. Well last evening we got an answer to that question, and it’s an interesting development:
Yep, we’ll have more again in this campaign, with Maclean’s and CityTV hosting their own debate. Respected journalist Paul Wells will moderate the event, which will take place in Toronto at CityTV’s studios just a block away from Yonge-Dundas Square. While the news that there will be another debate is pretty big all onto itself, there are a few details from the announcement of this debate that were very notable.
First thing was the date; Thursday September 12th. That date jumped out because everyone has been speculating about when the writ for the campaign itself might drop and when the campaign would officially be on. The latest the writ can be dropped to meet the minimum standard of a 36 day campaign is Monday September 16th and many have assumed the Prime Minister wouldn’t drop the writ before Tuesday September 10th, which is the day of the provincial election in Manitoba. That has left many to assume the writ would drop sometime between September 11th and the 16th. So it’s quite possible that this debate will happen pre-writ, which is interesting.
But the date of this debate also ensures that this debate will be the first leaders debate of this campaign, making it a huge event in a tight race. With the two other currently scheduled leaders’ debates happening on October 7th and 10th (towards the end of the campaign), this debate will have a big chance to set the tone and narrative of the campaign for the first few weeks. For the Liberals and Conservatives, it marks a chance to try to break away from one another in the polls. For the Greens, it would present a chance for Elizabeth May to re-boot her stalled momentum and present herself as the alternative. For the New Democrats, it would give Jagmeet Singh to staunch the bleeding, reverse the current trend and show that he and his party are the real alternative.
The timing of this marks a huge opportunity for all parties invited, and conversely a huge risk. A great performance could boost a party’s fortunes and jumpstart their prospects, but a bad performance could sink a party’s campaign potentially before the writ even drops, supercharging the bleeding of votes to other options. It could be very high stakes and could go a long way to determining what the campaign looks like.
But for that to happen for a party, you need to be on that stage, which brings us to the other piece of news on this announcement. It was announced that only the Conservatives, New Democrats and Greens have confirmed their attendance, while they were still waiting for a reply from the Liberals. Maclean’s made it clear that this debate will go ahead, Trudeau or no Trudeau, so this is happening. That makes it weird that the Liberals haven’t given an answer yet and while I’d be surprised if they said “no” to taking part, the fact that a “yes” hasn’t come already is an interesting thing to note.
Beyond the Liberals though, it’s also notable that neither the Bloc nor the People’s Party have been invited to take part. The Bloc wasn’t invited in 2015 as well, so it’s not a shock that they weren’t invited to take part in a debate being broadcast from Toronto. But when it comes to the PPC, this would have been an open question as to what Maclean’s might do here. Being that this debate doesn’t operate within the new results of the federal leaders’ debate commission, Maclean’s is completely at their own discretion to invite whomever they want. There are no pre-set or prescribed criteria for them to follow, giving them a completely free hand. And with that being the case, they seemed to have made the decision that Maxime Bernier shouldn’t be there. Personally I’ll be interested in hearing the explanation as to why he would be excluded, as it could set an interesting precedent going forward. Beyond that though, I would expect that the PPC will start making a stink about this lack of invitation and given that there are no formal criteria to speak of, they will probably try to pressure their way into this thing. Will it work? We’ll see, but this seems sure to be a part of the discussion.
Now we have a much better idea about when the 43rd General election will launch, either officially or unofficially. This first debate will go a long way to determining the course of the campaign for all of the parties involved and will be a big “make or break” moment early in the campaign. So mark your calendars, were about three weeks away from the fireworks beginning. After a long wait, the campaign is almost here and the rubber is starting to hit the road.