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Majority of Canadians say traditional debates should go ahead, even without Harper: poll

A vast majority of Canadians say they believe leaders’ debates are an important part of the democratic process, a poll released Wednesday found.
A vast majority of Canadians say they believe leaders’ debates are an important part of the democratic process, a poll released Wednesday found. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — A vast majority of Canadians say they believe leaders’ debates are important to the democratic process, and that the major network-led debates should go ahead regardless of whether the prime minister participates, a poll released Wednesday found.

Last month, the federal Conservatives announced they were leaving the traditional format behind and seeking new options.  The party’s spokesman said the broadcast consortium’s established format of airing one French and one English debate ahead of election day was based on a “sense of entitlement.”

Instead, said Kory Teneycke, the Conservatives would assess proposals from individual media organizations to host up to five debates.

READ MORE: Conservative campaign spokesman calls media consortium ‘entitled’

Their strategy, whatever it may be, could backfire though; 62 per cent of poll respondents said they consider the debates an important element in deciding how to vote and three-quarters said they want to see the consortium debates go ahead with or without Prime Minister Stephen Harper, according to an EKOS poll conducted for ipolitics.ca.

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Moreover, 70 per cent of respondents said they had the impression that parties were trying to “advance their own selfish motives” rather than trying to create a more democratic debate process.

The broadcast consortium of Global News, CTV, CBC and Radio-Canada announced last month it had reached an agreement in principle to host two debates with the NDP, Liberals and Green Party during “the height” of the federal election campaign. The Bloc Quebecois agreed to take part in the French-language debate.

READ MORE: Conservatives won’t participate in major broadcasters’ debates

The broadcasters also announced a partnership with Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine and YouTube in an effort to increase the debates’ digital reach and accessibility.

Although the broadcasters initially indicated they were “optimistic” the Conservatives would accept the new proposal, the governing party turned down the invitation later that day.

The Conservatives have accepted offers from Maclean’s, TVA, the Globe and Mail and one from the Munk Debates on foreign policy.

The NDP has also agreed to participate in those.

READ MORE: Conservatives give green light to third election debate

The Liberals, however, haven’t committed to any individual debate, instead laying out a series of conditions a debate must meet in order for leader Justin Trudeau to participate.

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Seventy-four per cent of poll respondents who identified as Liberals expressed satisfaction with the traditional format of one televised English debate and another in French, compared to five per cent who said they were dissatisfied.

Of the respondents identifying as Conservative, slightly fewer than half — 46 per cent —said they were satisfied with the traditional debates, compared to 21 per cent who said they were dissatisfied.

This EKOS poll involved an online only survey of 937 Canadians between May 29 and June 1 and carries a margin of error of +/-3.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.