Agreement reached for televised French-language 2015 leaders debate

Pictured above Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper. Darryl Dyck, Sean Kilpatrick, Fred Chartrand / The Canadian Press

Canada’s main political parties have come back to the country’s big broadcasters and agreed to a French-language debate to be broadcast across multiple networks on Sept. 24.

The change comes amid growing public confusion about the status of debates after the different parties agreed to different forums, some of which had no guarantee of being televised. A Global News/Ipsos poll released Tuesday shows more than 8 in 10 Canadians want all the main leaders to participate in the traditional debates, organized by a volunteer consortium of major broadcast news organizations, including Global News.

The Conservatives had initially refused to participate in any consortium debates, but late Tuesday night party spokesperson Kory Teneycke announced: “We have accepted the proposal for a French language debate between the party leaders to be held at the studios of Radio Canada in Montreal on September 24th.”

However, Teneycke slammed the door again on an English debate produced by the major networks.

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“This is the fifth and final leaders’ debate accepted by the Conservative Party of Canada,” Teneycke said in a statement.

READ MORE: Leaders’ debate, attack ads and a week of campaigning have little effect on voters, Ipsos poll shows

The NDP, Liberals and Green Party had all tentatively accepted the broadcasters’ proposal for both the French and English TV debates, but last week NDP Leader Tom Mulcair modified his stance and said he would not participate in any debate in which Conservative Leader Stephen Harper was not present.

That leaves the future of a widely-broadcast English debate in doubt, even as the second French debate was getting the go-ahead. The broadcasters confirmed that the Sept. 24 debate – in which the Bloc Quebecois will also participate – will air live on the CBC’s French service, Radio-Canada, as well as CPAC and provincial broadcaster Tele-Quebec. A translated English feed will be carried on along with CTV News Channel, CBC News Network and social media channels.

“This debate will be unique in its reach from coast to coast and its diversity of voices,” Michel Cormier, director general of information at Radio-Canada, said in a statement.

A second French debate will air on Quebec’s most-watched television network, TVA, on Oct. 2.

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However, English viewers still have no assurance of getting any televised debate beyond the one staged by Maclean’s magazine last Thursday, more than two-and-a-half months ahead of the Oct. 19 vote. The Maclean’s debate, broadcast in the middle of summer on the smaller City TV network, attracted less than one-third the audience of the last English leaders’ debate during the 2011 campaign.

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Stephen Harper has agreed to participate in two additional, smaller debates, but neither has a broadcast partner beyond the little-watched Cable Public Affairs Channel. The Globe and Mail debate on September 17th in Calgary will focus only on the economy, while the Munk Debates forum on September 28th in Toronto will be restricted to questions of foreign policy.

Rudyard Griffiths, the organizer of the Munk Debates, told CBC’s Power and Politics Tuesday that the negotiations with the federal political parties have been an ongoing headache. With each party trying to bargain their participation, Griffiths said it left him longing for the days when the broadcast news organizations would cooperate to negotiate the terms of broadly-watched debates.

“It almost makes me nostalgic – I can’t believe I’m going to say this – for the consortium. Because we’re in the kind of hot seat now having to negotiate with three different parties,” Griffiths told the CBC.

The Munk Debates organization announced earlier Tuesday that it would be changing its leaders’ debate to a bilingual format, to which the Liberals, NDP and Conservatives have all agreed. The Green Party has not been invited to the Globe and Mail or Munk Debates, despite protests from leader Elizabeth May.

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