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Right format, wrong participants

Posted by cwaddell under All, Election 2011, Election 2011 Campaign strategy, Election 2011 Faculty links, Election 2011 Media commentary

Christopher Waddell

The mixture of one-on-one and group engagement in last night’s debate highlighted why the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP are so happy that the broadcast consortium did their dirty work for them in being the bad guys who excluded Elizabeth May and the Green Party from the debates.

Mr Duceppe’s presence provides tangible benefits to each of the other three parties while Ms May poses a threat none of them need or want on display.  As a result,  the format worked for the parties but not for voters.

The one-on-one sessions between Mr Duceppe and each of the others leaders were largely irrelevant. Each was debating someone who can’t cost them any votes or threaten the $2 subsidy that goes with every vote each party receives.

The low point came in the exchange between Mr Duceppe and Mr Layton where it appeared at a couple of moments that they had simply run out of things to say and were hoping moderator Steve Paikin would put them out of their misery by ending their session early.

Replace Mr Duceppe with Ms May and the dynamic changes completely.

Her exchanges with Mr Layton and Mr Ignatieff would have had real meaning as the Greens, running in ridings all across the country, are a realistic threat to take votes and that $2 per ballot away from both the Liberals and NDP as well as being a gadfly to Mr Harper. The Liberals and NDP were thrilled not to have to worry about that last night.

For his part Mr Harper would much rather have Mr Duceppe than Ms May on the stage but for different reasons.

The Bloc leader had a curiously listless and scattered performance – at times looking bored with the whole thing while bouncing back and forth between wanting to debate events that took place five and six years ago and making current demands for more for Quebec.

All that played directly into Mr Harper’s hands. That strident push for more for Quebec whether it is applying provincial language laws to federal jurisdiction within the province or attacking the Lower Churchill hydro project helped the Conservative leader make his case that if voters don’t give Mr. Harper a majority, the Liberals and NDP will have to dance to the Bloc’s tune if they try to form a government in the next parliament.

The revised format worked to a degree but the failure to include Ms May in the debate demonstrated the extent to which the broadcast consortium is simply an agent for the parties on the stage.

That’s an embarrassing role for news organizations to be playing in an election campaign.

Christopher Waddell is director of the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University. He is a former reporter, Ottawa bureau chief for the Globe and Mail and a former CBC-TV parliamentary bureau chief and executive producer-news specials for CBC TV News. You can follow him on Twitter @cwaddell27

Reader's Comments

  1. Laura Brawn |

    Thank you for pointing this out, Professor Waddell. In addition to pandering to the “parties on the stage” by excluding Elizabeth May (there is NO WAY) they want to talk about proportional representation), it is my opinion that the CTV, CBC and Global consortium excluded her because the Green Party platform is incompatible with the real controllers of the consortium – the advertisers. All of these stations are rife with advertising for swiffer mops, Tide laundry detergent and the like.

    Recently I have noticed that while there has been some VERY basic coverage of the issue of her exclusion and her attempt to legally challenge it, the media has failed to remind people of her wponderful success the last time, when she was allowed to participate. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that there was a great deal of media consensus at the time and the debate was enhanced by her presence. Wonder why that wasn’t brought up in the paper? Thanks again,