WATCH: The Conservatives are refusing to take part in the televised debates that traditionally take place during federal elections. They say the plan is in the public interest, but there could also be a political calculation behind the move. Mike Le Couteur reports.
OTTAWA – The Conservatives’ campaign spokesman says the three major TV networks have a “sense of entitlement” for attempting to join forces to televise four leaders’ debates in the run-up to the October 19 federal election.
Kory Teneycke, formerly the vice-president of now-defunct Sun News Network, told Global News that the media landscape has changed and a consortium which also includes CBC and CTV is “not really required” to broadcast the debates.
“The sense of entitlement on the part of the consortium that they should determine what those debates are to the exclusion of everyone else in the media realm and other organizations, strikes me as self-serving,” Teneycke said.
The former director of communications for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the party will assess proposals from individual media organization to host up to five debates.
The party has already accepted two invitations from English news magazine Macleans, which is owned by Rogers, and a French debate with Quebec network TVA. The Globe and Mail has also submitted a proposal.
The NDP has agreed to the Macleans and TVA debates, as well as one with Up For Debate, which represents women’s issues. The Liberals accuse the Tories of shielding Harper from a majority of viewers and say they are waiting to hear all proposals before committing.
“We entered the consortium process in good faith, unfortunately it seems the Conservatives once again, do not want the broadest number of Canadians to hear from Mr. Harper,” Liberal party spokesman Olivier Duchesneau wrote in a statement.
“Canadians should hear from their leaders across the country, in town halls, on the road in their communities and in debates. We believe in doing the right thing for voters.”
Duchesneau added that if elected, the Liberals want an independent commission on debates.
“Political parties and broadcasters should not be able to cherry pick debates on an ad hoc basis,” he wrote.
Green Party leader Elizabeth May said she has accepted the Macleans offer and will join any debate if asked.
“Stephen Harper’s decision to decline the debate consortium’s proposal is an obvious attempt to fragment the audience and limit easily accessible coverage to all Canadians, including residents of rural and remote communities with limited access to private broadcasting, high-speed internet, and web streaming,” May said in a release.
A spokeswoman for the consortium said the networks remain committed to organizing debates for the 2015 federal election.
In 2011, some 10 million Canadians tuned in to the English-language debates and more than 4 million watched the French language debates on Canada’s major television networks during prime time and on the web, according to a release.
Christopher Waddell, an associate professor of journalism at Carleton University, thinks it’s a good thing to change up the debate structure, but believes a commission should be struck to handle them independently.
“I think it should have been taken out of the hands of broadcasters a long time ago, and given to an independent organization that would run a series of debates not just one in each language,” he said.
Teneycke said it’s up to each party to decide which debates they want to participate in, and for each media outlet to decide what they want to propose.
He noted that Global hosted its own debate during the recent Alberta provincial election, and that UK Prime Minister David Cameron did not attend the BBC’s debate.
Teneycke said the Conservatives lean towards serious proposals that don’t involve a lot of “cross talk.”
“Certainly our objective is to actually have a discussion around the issues of the country that are of the most importance to Canadians and have everyone’s position be clear at the end of that. I think it’s pretty straightforward what our interest is in that – we want people’s vote. And to do that we’ve got to be able to communicate what our policies are,” Teneycke said.
As for Harper participating in a debate without NDP leader Tom Mulcair or Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, Teneycke said it’s “hard to have a debate without other people in it.”
“But I think it’s in the interest of the parties that wish to form government to debate the government,” he said.
And what if the opposition leaders hold a debate without Harper?
“They can enjoy debating each other.”