No Debate: Does it Matter that Trudeau Nixed Two Leadership Contests?

Trudeau debate

Justin Trudeau has announced he will not be participating in two federal election televised debates. (Photo: Rob Pinney/Lnp/Shutterstock)

Yesterday we learned that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will skip out on two federal election debates, leaving opposition parties wondering what he’s hiding from.

Trudeau’s election team served notice that the Liberal leader would participate in the two televised debates organized by the Leaders’ Debates Commission but would not take part in the Munk or the Maclean’s/Citytv debates.

Citing scheduling difficulties, Daniel Lauzon, the Liberal’s communications director, issued a statement saying that two debates are enough: “The commission debates will be widely distributed on television, radio, digital and social streaming platforms and reach the largest possible audience,”

Opposition accuses Trudeau of ducking and hiding

That didn’t sit well with the opposition, which accused Trudeau of ducking out because he didn’t want to face uncomfortable questions on his governing record, including his environmental record, surging deficits, the Indigenous Reconciliation and, of course, SNC-Lavalin.

In a Tweet yesterday, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said that “Trudeau is running away from his record of failure.”

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh joined in the chorus criticizing the PM. “It’s hard to know which questions Mr. Trudeau didn’t want to be accountable to. Why did you buy a pipeline? Why did you give the Weston family $12 million for fridges, but yet can’t find the money for a Pharmacare program? Why do you care more about helping your wealthy friends than hard-working families?”

Green Party leader Elizabeth May said that the Trudeau debate no-show was a “shame.”

And, of course, there was the obligatory social media stunt to try to embarrass Trudeau.

 Do debates really accomplish anything?

In the last election, then Prime Minister Stephen Harper was showered with abuse for choosing which debates to participate in. That was in 2015. In 2019, though, Trudeau can obviously see the wisdom behind Harper’s strategy. After four years in power, he’s got a lot of explaining to do and some of his answers just won’t do.

In deciding to skip out on two debates, Trudeau has decided he simply doesn’t want to give the opposition more opportunity to blast him on his record. The other leaders were rubbing their hands at the chance to fling mud on Trudeau’s re-election bid.

The optics of the Trudeau debate no-show are not good — it’s clear this is not about scheduling but an effort to avoid answering difficult questions in front of a national audience. His decision not to stand up in front of Canadians and face opposition leaders seems like he’s quelling democracy.

But the big question remains, as it did in 2015 — do we really need more debates? For the most part, these confabs are cumbersome contests where the leaders dodge the hard questions by rhyming off scripted messages.

Unlike the U.S. Presidential debates, where there are just two combatants, ours are an ungainly mix of four or five participants, each trying desperately to score points by shouting over each other. We watch with bemusement as these awkward exercises in futility unfold and afterwards wonder just what the heck they accomplished.

Surely the two English debates (and one in French) provide sufficient opportunity for the opposition to ask their tough questions and make their points. If they can’t score a victory or at least hurt the Trudeau brand, then it’s their fault.

The English debate will be held on Oct. 7 and the French debate is on Oct. 10. Both will take place at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que. Trudeau has said he will take part in the (French language) TVA debate, if it fits his schedule.


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