Twitter has been alive with predictions that there would be a groundswell of support for Elizabeth May’s participation in the Leaders Debate. Well, I don’t think so!
In the 2008 election, May failed to capitalize on her participation in the debate. There was no electoral breakthrough. Since then, Green Party support has slipped in the polls and May herself has cut and run from a riding in her home province of Nova Scotia, to one in British Columbia where she thinks winning may be easier.
Although the NDP and Liberals quickly did the political thing by saying it was alright for her to participate in the 2011 Leaders Debate, they won’t fight hard to include her. It was a mistake to have her in the debate last time. She had no impact, and now without the fig leaf of an elected member in the House of Commons, the networks have taken the initiative to punt her. The novelty has worn off.
Because of the new rules governing the participation of registered lobbyists in political campaigns, I have had to take a pass on leading Mr. Harper’s debate team. Reports suggest the debate format will return to something like what we saw in 2004 and 2006. Then, leaders stood at podiums and engaged in some one on one segments as well as an open free for all. This will give Mr. Harper and Mr. Ignatieff an opportunity to square off. But, it will also mean the Prime Minister will be under attack from all sides. He won’t like this, but will perform well because he always keeps his cool and, of the three candidates, has the best knowledge of policy. I suspect last night’s agreement will put an end to all of the Twitter talk about a separate Harper/Iggy debate. These debates are a major distraction rarely impacting the outcome of the election.
One on one debates used to be very effective when there were three leaders, back in the days of Mulroney-Turner-Broadbent. But for this to happen, the networks would have to bite the bullet on Gilles Duceppe’s participation.
Mr. Duceppe always puts on a credible and respectful performance in the English debate. But for most Canadians it’s odd that the leader of a regional party is in national debate. Maybe next time the networks will tackle this problem as well.