Monday, October 21, 2013

What would Jack Layton say about Linda McQuaig’s push for a two-person debate?

Four federal by-elections have been called for Nov. 25th, including in Toronto Centre. While a new poll shows the Liberals comfortably ahead, I think it’s going to be a real battle. And so does NDP candidate Linda McQuaig, judging by the gambit she launched this weekend.

McQuaig is challenging Liberal candidate Chrystia Freeland to a one-on-one debate on income inequality, a topic they’ve both written about at some length. Such a debate would exclude every other party running in this election, such as the Green Party and, oh yeah, the folks with a majority government that are running the country, the Conservatives.

Freeland isn’t taking the bait; she says she’s looking forward to many debates with all the candidates.
Of course, the idea of excluding major parties for more limited debates isn't new. In 2008, the NDP and Conservatives teamed-up to bar Green Party Elizabeth May from the leaders debate. After pressure from the Liberals and Canadian citizens, the NDP and leader Jack Layton backed down, and the Greens were included.

McQuaig isn't talking about excluding the other parties she must not consider contenders from all debates though, apparently. Just from this one.

Of course, an additional debate of just two so-called front-runners isn't a new idea either. In the 2011 election, Stephen Harper challenged then Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff to a one-on-one debate that would have excluded the NDP's Layton. Ignatieff quickly accepted the challenge; Harper then quickly changed his mind -- he wanted it to replace all leaders debates. And that obviously wasn't on.

In retrospect, such a debate would have been rather arrogant and exclusionary, as fun as it all was at the time. The voters like to decide for themselves among all the candidates though, as the results of that election (vaulting the NDP into the official opposition) would show.

Which brings us back to Layton. What would he have to say about having a separate one-on-one debate that doesn't include other parties, as McQuaig is seeking to do in Toronto-Centre? Well, we know what he had to say about it in 2011:

Layton called this idea an "anti-democratic approach" the he didn't think was right or would be accepted by Canadians. He noted it "prejudges the position of Canadians" and compared it to American-style politics. So Layton, clearly, would have a problem with what the NDP is proposing in Toronto-Centre.

One has to wonder if McQuaig ran this by new NDP leader Tom Mulcair. And one also has to wonder what McQuaig and Freeland would debate, as most of McQuaig's ideas on the topic have been soundly and publicly disavowed by Mulcair as unrepresentative of the party's position.

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Purple library guy said...

Well, it's probably not politically clever of her. McQuaig's new to being a politician. But in conception this seems less like a tactic by party leaders, a matter of politicians making arrangements to exclude certain groups, and more like a proposal for a debate between actual people. I mean, McQuaig's an expert on issues of inequality, and Freeland has that reputation, and it seems the question has been on many lips, basically, which of them really knows their stuff and has something to offer on their chosen turf?
I haven't heard about any other candidates in the riding being particularly focused on that sort of issue. And let's face it, while I can imagine a Green having some useful things to say on the subject, what would a Conservative do in a debate about how to reduce inequality?

On the secondary point--it's true that McQuaig has some noticeable policy differences with Mulcair. This is fine; it's good to have a party with people in it who think for themselves. Particularly in this case 'cause she's right and he's wrong. I have some serious reservations about some of Thomas Mulcair's policy stances.

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