New debate format alienating voters, experts say

Sep 28, 2015 | News

By Katie Pedersen

For years, federal election debates have been run the same way. The Canadian broadcast consortium meets with the federal leaders, they arrange one English language debate and one French language debate.

Steve Paikin moderates the debates that are broadcast on every major news network, and those millions of Canadians who have chosen to tune in are all the wiser.

This year, Conservative leader Stephen Harper refused to participate in the traditional consortium, leading to a domino effect of federal leader dropouts and a new model.

This model includes five policy-specific debates, and it doesn’t include the mainstream news broadcasters.

So far, the jury is out on the effectiveness of the new format.

“There’s a greater opportunity for [federal leaders] to…differentiate themselves and make a more convincing case as to why Canadians ought to vote for them,” said Simon Palamar, Research Associate at the Ontario-based Centre for International Governance Innovation.

Gives people more information

“It has given Canadians more information to look at if they’re not decided yet.”

However, most Canadians are not looking at the information said Paikin, who has been moderating the federal election debates for years.

“I haven’t seen the figures from any of the debates that have happened so far, but I’d be prepared to bet everything I have that ten or eleven million people didn’t watch those,” said Paikin.

“Most people that I talked to couldn’t find the channel on television and aren’t accustomed to watching leaders debates on their computers or smart phones.”

Rural areas may have difficulty accessing live streams due to low-speed internet which also poses a problem with accessibility.

“I haven’t seen the data yet as to how many people have tuned in and how that compares to previous years,” said Palamar, adding that with the old consortium system “you can argue that everyone had an opportunity to watch it.”

‘Something’s been lost’

Paikin said holding a major debate in conjunction with policy-specific ones would be ideal.

“I think something’s been lost,” he said, adding that he didn’t have any issue with “democratizing” the process.

“I just regret the fact that the seminal significant one or two events that everybody’s watching has been taken away.”

Tonight’s federal election debate on foreign policy will be broadcast in English and French via CPAC and CHCH. It will also be live streaming at