In some sort of bizarre collision of fate in the universe, or some sort of sick joke on the part of television schedulers, the much anticipated U.S. Vice Presidential debate and the Canadian election Leaders’ Debate ended up on the air live at exactly the same time last night. 

I was following Twitter, of course, to see what people were saying leading up to the two events. There was lots of chatter was going on about the U.S. debates, of course, but then again, many of the people I follow are American, so it stands to reason. What I was really interested in was what was going on with my fellow Canadians. The camps seemed divided. Some people were going to flip back and forth between the two, and remarkably, some people were ONLY going to watch the U.S. debate! 

Now, I am absolutely not anti-American. But I have to say, I much preferred the Canadian debate over the U.S. one. To me, it was just better television, plain and simple. And here’s why:

Format. The CBC shook things up a bit this time ’round (pun intended), and did away with stiff podiums, going with a round table format instead. The 5 leaders (for the benefit of the non-Canadians, they are Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Quebecois, Jack Layton of the New Democrats, Stephane Dion of the Liberals, incumbent Stephen Harper of the Conservatives, and Elizabeth May of the Green Party) sat around an oval table emblazened with a red maple leaf. The moderator sat at the head of the table. This format, of facing each other, as difficult as it was for the TV crew to shoot, did one thing well – it enabled conversation. And conversational it was! With the leaders facing each other like this, I kind of half expected to see someone come out and serve up a round of beers. I liked the laid back feel, and I think the leaders seemed to enjoy it too. 

Lack of Glitz. Compared to the U.S., Canadians are decidedly un-glitzy. This isn’t a bad thing, in fact, quite the contrary. We don’t do the CNN-big-flashy-animations-with-Wolf-Blitzer-dancing-around-in-front-of-a-jumbotron thing very well, like our U.S. counterparts – so we just don’t do it. Instead, we opt for a simple, to the point, get on with the show attitude. In fact, last night, the pre-game show featured CBC anchor Suhanna Merharchand talking to voters via phone, email and even Skype video. It was a great way to kick things off, talking to real Canadians instead of political pundits to get their views on what they expected to hear in the debate. The after-show had the regular slew of analysts, but they were brief, not overly analytical, and in fact made some good points.

Real People. Real Issues. Some will argue about the “human qualities” and “personalities” of some of our party leaders, to be sure. But I’m not one to get into my personal political leanings in a public forum such as this, so if you want to have that discussion in the comments, fill yer boots. My point is, I found the Canadian debate to be lively and at times heated, but the leaders all did a good job of addressing the issues and presenting their parties’ respective platforms. What I enjoyed about the 5 leaders is that like them or not, they all come across as having real personalities. These are just regular people, standing up for what they believe, and I think all of them did a pretty good job of representing the views of their supporters. There was some humour at times, which I think adds a real human element. And at the end of the day, I, as a voter, came away with clarity on where each leader stands and with a much better sense of which box I’m going to tick on October 14th. 

I’m Canadian. Perhaps this is the most important reason to prefer the Canadian debates. Yes, I know that what is happens in the U.S. affects us greatly, particularly the current economic crisis. Yes, I know it’s important to keep up with American issues. But, we are not the United States. We are an independent nation, with our own economic uncertainties, and our own serious issues like homelessness and climate change. Home turf comes first. The decisions that are made in Parliament affect us more directly than the laws that are passed through Congress. So while it’s all fine and well to get caught up in the glitz and glamour of the U.S. electoral process, we don’t vote for their President. We vote for our Members of Parliament. And on October 14th, that box you check is much more important to our country than whether Sarah Palin is going to make a good Vice President. 

I believe firmly in Canada’s democratic process. But it only works if you get your butt out to vote. So pay attention to the issues, make your decision, and I’ll see you at the polling station.