“An election is coming,” British novelist George Eliot noted wryly in 1866. “Universal peace is declared, and the foxes have a sincere interest in prolonging the lives of the poultry.” You could say the same thing about Canada, circa 2019.
There’s a federal election around the corner—at press time it had not yet been officially called, but our money is on Oct. 21—and once again politicians are eager to explain how beneficent and pleasurable life will be under their doting rule. Left as a series of uninterrupted monologues, however, the various forms of political grandstanding, exaggeration and misinformation that comprise a typical campaign offer little to properly inform the electorate. To truly grasp the pros and cons of each party and its leader, you need to get them all in the same room and make them talk. You need a debate. In fact, you need several.
It is for this crucial democratic prerequisite that Maclean’s and Citytv are co-hosting the first debate in the election cycle, just as we did in 2015.
DEBATE NIGHT: Where and when you can watch our debate
The two-hour event on Sept. 12 in Toronto will air live on Citytv, Macleans.ca, Facebook and Twitter, as well as Rogers news radio stations. It will be conducted in English with CPAC carrying a French translation and OMNI Television offering Mandarin, Cantonese and Punjabi.
Handling the moderator duties will be Maclean’s senior writer and renowned political commentator Paul Wells. After interviewing all major party leaders over the past year-and-a-half as part of the Maclean’s Live series—as well as moderating the 2015 debate—Wells is particularly well-suited to negotiating this important political conversation.
Wells’s hour-long interviews could be considered a necessary preamble to the debate as they offer an intimate look at the men and woman who could soon lead this country. In talking to Wells, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh revealed the origins of his social justice convictions; Green party head Elizabeth May detailed her deep concern for the environment and dreams of cross-party co-operation; Andrew Scheer explained how “Conservatives win when we have a positive and aspirational message to tell”; and current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said of voters: “If you make a compelling case for the direction we’re going in and how we can be better if we all succeed together, then they will rise to that.”
With these lengthy conversations as backstory, we can expect our national leaders debate to provide voters with a spirited look at Canada’s political leaders as they respond to questions and react to the answers of their opponents. The exchange will focus on four broad themes: the economy, foreign policy, Indigenous issues and, lastly, energy and the environment. In addition to their informative value, debates are also highly competitive affairs and thus required viewing in their own right. Stumbles or jabs can quickly become electoral pivot points, as was the case in 1984 when Progressive Conservative leader Brian Mulroney pilloried Prime Minister John Turner over patronage, and again in 2011 when NDP leader Jack Layton outshone Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and went on to replace him as the official Opposition leader. As well, Justin Trudeau’s solid performance in our 2015 debate marked the beginning of his ascent from third-place candidate to prime minister.
As the campaign progresses, voters will have several other debates to consider, including those arranged by the newly created Leaders’ Debate Commission. We wish those other efforts well. With so many crucial issues at play—from how to handle the federal deficit to maintaining cross-country support for immigration to facing down international challenges from China and Trump’s America—we need to encourage as much informed, differentiating debate between those who seek to lead as possible.
We are pleased to launch the election campaign with a thoughtful, challenging and respectful debate about the issues that will define our political landscape, and lives, for years to come. Both foxes and poultry should be watching.
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This article appears in print in the October 2019 issue of Maclean’s magazine with the headline, “We’re doing this.” Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here.