Stephen Harper is running scared from election debates

Julian Wolfe
May 21st, 2015

With an election just months away, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has decided to abandon the traditional all-broadcasters debate hosted by the nation’s major broadcasters and for the first time will be streamed on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. The Liberals, NDP, Green Party and Bloc Quebecois have all agreed to participate but the Conservatives refuse to even negotiate.

The Conservatives have instead opted for smaller, more pointed and focused debates hosted by The Globe and Mail, Macleans/Reuters, Google, among others. The NDP has followed suit but the Liberals say they are in no rush to decide. Conservative strategist Kory Teneycke says Justin Trudeau and the Liberals aren’t joining their debates because they are afraid, but fail to justify abandoning the debate of the country.

Why Would the Conservatives Reject the Traditional Debates?

Conservative attack ads are crafted by taking clips from major broadcasters and portraying political opponents negatively out of context. This has lead to an ongoing spat with the very major broadcasters who run the traditional consortium every election.

If the ongoing spat isn’t the trigger, consider the way the Conservatives operate. Control is everything. The Conservatives only speak on talking points in controlled media settings. In the last election, Harper took only five questions per day. During their mandate, the new trend is ignoring questions and repeating pre-scripted talking points. In addition, the election will take place in the height of the Mike Duffy trial, which is expected to paint an interesting picture about how the accountability leader of 2006 has chosen a senator who is anything but ethical.

Perhaps the most prominent reason the Conservatives abandoned the debates is fear. In a setting they can’t control with talking points and spokespeople, Stephen Harper has no choice but to answer to his opponents or look weak and foolish. In addition, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has proven himself as a strong debater during the senate scandal when a reluctant Harper was subject to a series of pointed questions. Harper’s real target, Trudeau, is popular nationwide, even despite sagging poll numbers more recently. In addition, Trudeau is a paid speaker and fluent communicator. Put these two men beside Harper where the topic of debate risks being overcome by his scandals and short comings and his strategists know he will appear weak.

The Conservatives are clearly running scared of the debate and after nine years and millions in taxpayer funded advertisement, one would think the Prime Minister would have more confidence in the decisions he made and not feel the need to hide behind controlled photo-ops and talking points.

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On Monday, the longest campaign in modern history will come to a close and if current polls are any indication, Canada may be seeing a change in government after 9 years of Conservative rule under the leadership of Stephen Harper. Accountability was his calling card in 2006 and today, accountability may very well be one of the defining reasons for his departure.

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