During the televised four-headed leaders’ debates of 2006, Paul Martin went off on one of his trademark tangents, declaring he would be delighted to debate Gilles Duceppe anywhere, any time, about the future of Quebec’s place in (or, to be fair, out of) Canada. Then he got cut off and the moderator changed the subject and the moment was lost.
But Duceppe, no fool, announced in Montreal the day after the debates that he would be delighted to take Martin up on the offer. “Here I am!” he announced gleefully.
The then-prime minister made himself small while his staff put out remarks to the effect that he had a full schedule and couldn’t be expected to do another debate after the two (French and English) just televised. But somebody else would. Stephen Harper.
With the televised consortium debate already finished, the Stephen Harper Conservative campaign put out a news release formally offering to debate Duceppe one-on-one where Martin wouldn’t. “If Paul Martin refuses to stand up for Canada, Stephen Harper will,” one of his helpers told reporters. I fussed over this moment a bit in my book, writing that it was a moment when Stephen Harper began to look and sound like a prime minister.
Today Harper said he isn’t interested in any debates beyond the televised four-headed network consortium debate.
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