The Maclean's debate is on Aug. 6. Here's why it matters. -

The Maclean’s debate is on Aug. 6. Here’s why it matters.

Maclean’s is not interested in letting the party leaders set the terms of the election. And with our debate, we’ll have some questions for them.




“Yeah, the campaign started a long time ago,” Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau told Maclean’s in August 2014. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair agreed, a few weeks later, in his own interview with Maclean’s: “Everything that the government’s going to be doing for the next year, everything we’re going to be doing as the Opposition, has one objective in mind: forming the government.” Prime Minister Stephen Harper didn’t give us an interview last autumn, but the meticulous staging of the PM’s public appearances and the barrage of Conservative party ads on TV and radio suggest he agrees: The campaign for the October 2015 election is already on. It has been for a long time.

How should journalists respond? Some people seem to think we should stand by while party leaders campaign non-stop, because we still cling to the genteel fiction that none of it is “real” until the Prime Minister finally visits Rideau Hall to launch a formal campaign. Maclean’s disagrees. The knowledge of a fixed election date, Oct. 19, has spurred a longer campaign than Canadians are used to. We are not interested in letting the party leaders set the terms of that campaign. We have some questions for them.

On Thursday, Aug. 6, from 8 to 10 p.m. EDT, our political editor, Paul Wells, will put those questions to four national party leaders: Harper, Mulcair, Trudeau and Green Leader Elizabeth May. The format will be straightforward. All the questions will come from Maclean’s, which will not share any of them with the parties before the debate begins. In recent years, these debates have become more complex, with questions coming from ever-larger panels of moderators, and hand-picked “ordinary Canadians” standing on street corners in front of TV news cameras. To be fair, that’s certainly one way to do it. We prefer simplicity. We hope to provoke a conversation.

Related: Where and when you can watch the Maclean’s National Leaders Debate

The Maclean’s debate will be the first in the history of Canadian elections that is not organized by several television networks pooling their resources as a consortium. It will not be the last. The consortium model made sense when broadcast technology was exotic and cost a mint. It still makes sense for the networks, but there is no need for anyone else to grant them a permanent oligopoly. Already, other news organizations—and, in the case of the Munk Debates, a different kind of organization entirely—have announced they’ll welcome leaders in debates this year, too.

Why does the Maclean’s debate stand out? For one thing, ours is the first. It marks an end to the phony-war segment of the endless 2015 campaign and launches the real conversation. (Is August too soon for a debate? On the contrary. We’d have been happy to do this in March or June. We’re not ahead of the campaign; we’re finally catching up to it.) Second, it’s the most complete debate on offer: the only English-language debate in which the leaders of the Conservative, New Democratic, Liberal and Green parties have all agreed to participate. The Conservatives have said Harper won’t participate in the network consortium debates in October. And the Globe and Mail and Munk debates have decided, for whatever reason, not to invite Elizabeth May, despite polls showing that most Canadians feel she should participate. Finally, unlike other debates devoted only to the economy or to foreign policy, ours will cover a broad range of topics, giving viewers the best understanding of leaders’ thinking across all the issues any government will face.

In an interview with Maclean’s in May, Brian Mulroney dismissed the notion that debates don’t change campaigns. “They don’t, eh? You’re looking at a guy who made it to 24 Sussex because of [televised debates],” Mulroney said. Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley “made it to the premier’s position because of television debates. So I think that the television debates in the next election may turn out to be the most important since 1984.”

Sometimes, in other election years, the stakes of the decision facing Canadians might not have seemed very high: Perhaps the times were tranquil, the results a foregone conclusion, or the differences among parties negligible. That’s obviously not the case this year. There are big questions to resolve about the role of government in the life of the nation. The race is wide open. And the parties have important business to settle among them, on their starkly divergent philosophies of government’s role. It’s a good time to have a debate. We’re looking forward to ours.


The Maclean’s debate is on Aug. 6. Here’s why it matters.

  1. Writ may be ‘dropped’ this Sunday

    • The most important service the moderator can provide is to call out any leader who doesn’t directly answer a question. When this happens, as it most assuredly will, the moderator should simply state that “Sir/Madame you did not answer my question. So I ask you again…” If Mr. Wells is unable or unwilling to do this, find someone who can. Otherwise the debate will be a missed opportunity and a waste of time.

  2. Debates do impact elections, but often for all the wrong reasons.

    Did the fact Ignatieff was not prepared for Layton’s attack have anything to do with which party had the best plan to run the country? Did Mulroney’s attack on Turner? Did saying “I know math is hard”?

    Being good at debates is a skill. But you don’t have to be good at them to be good at running a country. Frankly, I am more interested in thoughtful reflection.

    • I never watch debates…’s turned an election into a verbal hockey game. Scoring points and all that.

      Suitable for high school….little else

      Great debaters can be lousy PMs, and vice versa

      • Once again I have to agree with Emily – I never. never watch them

  3. I love the fact that the consortium no longer controls the debates. However, my big fear is that the moderator himself be non-partisan, or, despite whatever his political leanings, proves he can put aside his bias [we all have them] and give Canadians a true and fair debate.

    So please please Paul Wells, give everyone equal time and don’t let people interrupt when it’s someone else’s turn. Ask honest and hard questions of ALL four candidates. We want to celebrate your first election debate as having presided over a spirited, but scrupulously fair debate, and give kudos to Macleans’ first foray into this exciting new format.

  4. I have a Q for Harper, Mulcair, and Trudeau:

    What are your respective BMI and Waist to Hip ratios? Both Harper and Mulcair look to have some serious girth and in men their age, this can lead to serious diseases (hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes,etc). Throw in the stress of the job and you have a serious matter. Are they taking any medications and how is their health?

    Canadians have a right to know if the health of their potential PM is compromised.

    • In light of Jack Layton’s death, your theory about girth predicting longevity of somewhat faulty.

    • I don’t know about your BMI, an outdated and inaccurate method, by the way, but I know your IQ is equivalent to that of a 6 year old.

  5. I’m not worried about any candidate answering question except ONE.

    He never does, he always deflect if their’s a moderator a real one not a muppet like we have in the commons sitting in a chair earning 100 thousand + and never forcing an honest answer out of this corrup goverment.

    Will this so called moderator would be so kind as to say to the Harper candidate that either he answer the question or get the hell out!!

    We want answers not hypocracy, no games , and if he lies tell him that please we’re not in parlement your safe to tell he’s a liar!!!

  6. If the TPP deal is so good for Canadians, why won’t the Harper Government release the text of it or even tell Canadians what’s in it?

  7. Again, I hope the moderator is fair. His very chummy photo with Mr. Trudeau a few years back suggests a comfortable friendship, as well as his endorsement of Mr. Trudeau to be Liberal leader out of everyone else in the pack – this in a nice long article in Macleans a few years back – gives me pause.
    Still, I’m absolutely willing to give him the benefit of the doubt – and will judge him on his interview skills come August 6th. good luck Mr. Wells.

  8. So calling the election early to gain partisan advantage to the richest party is not cheating, it shows a total lack of moral understanding of what it means to be fair and honest. Everybody knows the campaign should start in Sepember with the usual manageable number of days.

    In baseball the Chicago Cubs and fans refer to their home field as the “friendly confines of Wrigley Field”. That pretty much sums the reason why Harper is avoiding the usual non partisan fair TV network debate and opting to start off with the Maclean’s debate.

  9. Kudos to MacLeans for including Leader of the Green Party, Elizabeth May. A voice that Canadians should be able to hear.

  10. Mr Wells, could you please ask the candidates this question: “What EXACTLY is your plan to mitigate Climate Change?” Specifically, we need to know which candidates support Carbon Fee & Dividend – which is the only plan that will actually solve the problem without unduly loading the cost onto the backs of Canadians, and which cannot be skirted by corporations adept at ‘smoke & mirrors’.

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  12. The most important area of debate are the decline of civil liberties by Harper through C51 and the support by the Liberals . Focus on this area.

    • Try travelling to Russia, Middle East, Cuba, etc. Compare to these types of governments you feel your civil liberties are trampled because we need to go after these Islamic Jihadist so they do not kill someone in your family or anyone in Canada. Not sure what law abiding citizen is afraid of Canadian efforts to fret out these Islamic Jihadist maggots from our population

  13. Having travelled to 72 countries and spent time in the Middle East and Israel I cringe at the thought of Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Mulcair getting to lead this country. There is so much anarchy and financial instability, China, Greece, etc., that you need a strong leader who has been there and done that. I do not want to have budgets balance themselves or give ISIL blankets. I really hope that the moderator is able to ask what Trudeau and Mulcair would do with ISIL, tax cuts and if not how much will they raise them, job creation, etc. Give us the specifics and not just that we now need a change in government so the other parties can get in. Socialism plays well in Greece and some of the other South American countries that are mired in debt.