The debate about having more debates

It’s hard to disagree with Andrea Horwath’s call for more leaders’ debates this campaign. While the five of them she proposes might be a little excessive, one is clearly too few. With only a single 90-minute sprint through the issues, it’s just too easy for each leader to stick to his or her talking points.

Unfortunately, it’s also hard to imagine there will be a significant change to the debate routine, because there are just too many hurdles.

One of the usual problems with trying to have the leaders share the stage more often during a campaign is that it’s not perceived to be in the interest of whichever one holds power to begin with. One of the advantages of being the incumbent premier, if you know how to use it, is that you get to look reassuringly premier-like on the campaign trail; appearing on stage as an equal with the other two leaders levels that playing field. It’s also not all that advantageous spending more time than necessary being ganged up on.

Kathleen Wynne has some tendency to approach these sorts of decisions unconventionally, so it’s possible she’d be more open to extra debates than Dalton McGuinty was. It’s probably worth noting that whereas in 2011 Mr. McGuinty was the only one of the three leaders to take a pass on a separate debate in the province’s north, Ms. Wynne challenged the other leaders to such a meeting this time around.

But even if all three leaders did want to square off before a province-wide audience three or four or five times, there’s another major barrier: the consortium of television networks that turns over its airwaves to such events.

Those who’ve been involved in negotiations about debate logistics will attest that the broadcasters aren’t all that enthusiastic about even one debate, because it means pre-empting usual programing and losing advertising revenue. So there’s not much chance they’d be willing to do it a second or third time, let alone a fourth or fifth.

It’s frankly not entirely clear in this day and age why a debate needs to be on CBC, CTV and Global simultaneously. Once upon a time the saturation may have compelled some viewers to watch simply because they didn’t have other options, but that’s not the way most of us consume media any more. So presumably the debates could just go on one station at a time, and people who wanted to watch could watch.

In the heat of campaigns, though, all concerned have a tendency to default back to what’s been done traditionally. Unless there’s already been some work done to overhaul the debate format – and there have been no indications to that effect – it probably won’t happen now.

Ask The Globe: Answers to your questions on marijuana, the census and Liberal sponsorship scandal

For the duration of the election, The Globe is answering your questions – from fact-checking leaders’ statements to digging deep into policies and promises. Have a question? Tweet it with #AskTheGlobe

Spencer Smit asks: @globeandmail Harper saying cannabis is worse than tobacco, citing “evidence” please advise #AskTheGlobe

Mike Hager, a Globe reporter in Vancouver, recently looked into this:

The Canadian Cancer Society says smoking tobacco continues to be the leading preventable cause of premature deaths in the country, claiming about 37,000 lives each year. The non-profit organization says tobacco is the main risk factor for cancer, heart disease, stroke and lung disease in Canada.

In contrast, no deaths have been directly attributed to cannabis use or overdose, says Dr. Tim Stockwell, director of the University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research. But it is likely a factor in “a few” fatal crashes and “a few” lung-cancer deaths each year, he said.

Elizabeth Jane Banks asks: #AskTheGlobe Please fact check Elizabeth May’s claim that almost no one completes the voluntary census. #cdnpoli #elxn42

“Almost no one” may be a bit strong, but experts have warned about the quality of the National Household Survey data after it was made voluntary in 2011. Previously the longform census, which asks for more detailed information and is sent to a fraction of households, was mandatory. The response rates for the voluntary form were about 70 per cent in 2011, whereas the response rate for the mandatory form in 2006 was 93.5 per cent.

Alex Dempster asks: @globeandmail Harper said of the Liberal sponsorship scandal that $40 million of Canadians taxpayers’ money lost. Accurate? #AskTheGlobe

Maybe? This one’s a bit tricky, and may be a case of fuzzy math in campaign slogans. But it may originate in the $40-million of government funds for contracts to a firm where there was no evidence of work done, etc.

(The Globe and Mail, incidentally, won the prestigious Michener Award for public service in journalism for its uncovering of the scandal.)

Ask The Globe: Your questions on citizenship, C-51 and refugees

For the duration of the election, The Globe is answering your questions – from fact-checking leaders’ statements to digging deep into policies and promises. Have a question? Tweet it with #AskTheGlobe

Ben asks: #AskTheGlobe Can the government legally revoke someones Canadian citizenship? #MunkDebate

and Sarah asks: What conditions can a Canadian loose their citizenship, residency, or voting rights? Do refugees hafta pay interest? #AskTheGlobe

Let’s deal with these two together.

First, yes, the government can legally revoke citizenship if it was obtained fraudulently. The Conservatives also added another policy, which is that dual nationals can potentially lose their citizenship if convicted of terrorism or treason crimes. Depending on the circumstances, someone whose citizenship was revoked may be removed from the country.

On voting, the Conservatives did change the eligibility to vote for Canadian expats living abroad. Generally they lose their right to vote after five years, which Donald Sutherland was not very happy about.

Chris asks: Did Tom Mulcair really say different things about repealing C51? #AskTheGlobe

The NDP has never supported Bill C-51, the Anti-Terror Act. The New Democrats voted against the bill, which was supported by the Conservatives and Liberals. However, in interviews earlier in the year, leader Thomas Mulcair did change his tone. In February, Mr. Mulcair said he wouldn’t commit to repealing the bill if elected, though his party would definitely change it. Weeks later, in March, Mr. Mulcair committed to repealing the entire law.

Myles asks: Harper says ours response has been generous- is that true compared to past refugee crises? #MunkDebate #asktheglobe #futurevoter

It depends on what past refugee crises we’re comparing it to. In terms of numbers and speed of access for refugees, it’s much lower than Vietnam (when Joe Clark raised the target to 60,000 refugees). Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau at the Munk Debate brought up comparisons with Vietnam to accuse Harper of being stingy. What sets Syria apart from Vietnam is the rules Stephen Harper introduced about refugees needing their status approved by UNHCR or a third country, a rule that didn’t exist for the Vietnamese (and which the Kurdi family blames for the events leading to Alan’s death off the Turkish coast). If we’re comparing Syria with the Second World War, though – when we famously turned away a boatload of Jewish refugees in 1939, and were pretty hostile to Jewish refugees even during the war – our current response looks more generous. (Doug Saunders and Sean Fine have done really good historical analyses of Vietnam, the Second World War and our response to the Hungarian refugee crisis in the 1950s).

Ask The Globe: What happens if two parties tie for the most seats?

For the duration of the election, The Globe is answering your questions – from fact-checking leaders’ statements to digging deep into policies and promises. Have a question? Tweet it with #AskTheGlobe

Christopher Stasiuk asks: If two parties tie for first with the most seats in the federal election, who governs? Who is the PM? #asktheglobe

According to Wednesday’s Nanos numbers the Liberals and Conservatives are locked in a dead heat atop the polls. Which makes Christopher’s question a timely one.

Digital politics editor Chris Hannay explains the process.

The incumbent always gets first crack at forming government. (Usually, if the incumbent has not won the most seats after an election, they decline.) If the incumbent is one of the tied parties and they have a Speech from the Throne, and it gets defeated by the other parties, they have to go to Governor-General David Johnston and declare that they don’t have the confidence of the House.

The Governor-General can then decide whether to call an election or let another party have a chance at governing.

If an election has just happened, typically the Governor-General is expected to let another party have a chance to form the government so as not to waste voters’ times. (This happened in 1926)

If the second-place party, or the other party that was tied, can survive a confidence vote with other parties’ support, then they’re in government now.

This is essentially what happened in Ontario in 1985.