Why I Preferred Watching Canada's Debate over the U.S. Debate

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.

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  • October 3, 2008 at 8:29 am

    Thanks for the summary. As a Canadian, makes me proud. Makes me wish I could vote in either election (been out of Canada too long to vote, and not a US citizen).

  • October 3, 2008 at 8:35 am

    Great post! You’ve captured a lot of what I was thinking about!

    I mainly watched the Canadian debate last night, but watched a bit of the U.S. debate. I hated the idea of the realtime approval rating graph at the bottom of the screen (on CNN at least). To me it emphasized the shallow sound-bite orientation of U.S. politics. Who you vote for should not be a 2 second decision.

    At least the Canadian debate format had real interaction, not just two stick-figures taking turns making speeches to the camera.

  • October 3, 2008 at 8:41 am

    Awesome points here! I, too, watched the Canadian debate last night, because that’s what really matters to me. I was amazed at how drawn into it I was, actually! It must’ve been the format and the personalities, as you’ve pointed out.

    I did PVR the other debate, but when I went to watch it afterwards, I couldn’t take it seriously at all, not after the crazy glitzy animation intro! I also couldn’t bear to watch Sarah Palin’s impersonation of Tina Fey as Sarah Palin.

    I have never before been so excited about an election, and I think it’s actually been enhanced by all the annoying U.S. election coverage. I’m glad! And I’m so looking forward to voting now that I might just go to the advance polls!

  • October 3, 2008 at 9:17 am

    Well said as always!

    I too watched (and sporadically tweeted) the Canadian debate and enjoyed the new format immensely. I think they should take it further next time around – forbid ties and get out of the NAC and into a booth at D’arcy McGee’s or something.

    My only issue was the post-debate analysis. You’re right, it was nowhere near as over the top as what I saw of the US affair, but I flipped quickly through my options and eventually shut ‘er down entirely.

    CBC brought in candidates/pundits FROM each party. This seems really dumb. “Hey, deputy leader of the Green Party, what did you think? Oh, you think Elizabeth May won? Who woulda thunk.”


    Maybe it was just my timing but I lasted all of three seconds on Newsnet. Cue the network pundit: “As far as zingers go, I think the best line of the night…”


    What does CPAC have to offer? Oh look, more party reps. I wonder what they think? To make matters worse, I know one of the pundits personally and, well, we have said terrible things about each other in the past. Not CPAC’s fault but my points about having party people comment on the debate stand.

  • October 3, 2008 at 10:03 am

    I think that Steve Paikin is a genius at this stuff. The guy LOVES politics, he’s whip-smart, and I think he has the respect of all the leaders, otherwise they wouldn’t submit to his moderation so well.

    I would love me some one-on-one debates, though. Harper-Dion, May-Layton, Dion-Duceppe…

    PS: I think the format was organized by a coalition of CBC, CTV, and Global, not just CBC. But I could be wrong.

  • October 3, 2008 at 10:22 am

    I watched the whole Canadian debate (save for a few minutes at the beginning while I was forcing my KichenAid to mix up a double batch of pistachio cookie dough.

    I loved the back and forth. It was great to watch them all gang up on Stephen, then within a blink of an eye, they all turned on each other, and then after another blink of an eye, they are all over Haper again like a pack of hungry wolves. It was hilarious.

    This debate style was just the kind of thing you would expect out of Canadians over beer. You nailed that one, Sue. Can’t you just imagine this debate happening in a Newfie bar, over shots, and one of them gets mad enough to smash Harper over the head with the cod after he refuses to kiss it?? *snort*

  • October 3, 2008 at 10:22 am

    Love this post, it’s fantastic. I’ll be quoting it at BlogHer later today.

  • October 3, 2008 at 10:34 am

    I’m not familiar with the Canadian debates but have learned a lot now! I like how you guys consult real people before the debate. Makes me wonder why the U.S. doesn’t try something similar -> http://www.timjahn.com/blog/10/03/2008/arent-real-people-experts

  • October 3, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    I like how the Canadian hosts ask the Canadian people about the debate beforehand, rather than experts!

  • October 6, 2008 at 11:15 am

    Nice post. Maybe I’ve been looking in the wrong areas but I’ve found that many, if not most, of Canadians – and Canadian bloggers – are waay too entranced with the election of our friends to the south.

    Good summary, and I wish more people were as (openly) concerned about what’s going on in our own country.

    Keep up the great work suzemuse!!

  • […] example, some memorable lines from U.S. debates are shared here, though we as Canadians do tend to stand apart from the U.S. debate style).  I wonder if any of Layton’s above lines will get into the […]



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