Three out of four isn’t bad … usually. In baseball it’s phenomenal to have three hits in four at-bats. In golf it’s impressive to birdie three holes out of four. In music it’s a tremendous achievement to have three songs in four reach the Billboard Top 10. In the political arena, however, it’s a disaster to have only three of the top four federal leaders show up for a nationally televised debate.
But that’s what happened last week when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau opted to sit out the MacLean’s/Citytv debate that kicked off the fall federal election campaign. He was very much conspicuous by his absence, and his three biggest challengers were forced to go it alone.
Without the Liberal leader present, the debate just didn’t have the teeth it should have had. It would be like watching a James Bond movie without James Bond being in it. Trudeau opted out because his party claims there isn’t much benefit for him to take part in these series of debates. Apparently, the debates are also taxing on his time.
To the average voter, though, his absenteeism from these debates is likely to be viewed in a different way, namely that he’s afraid to face his opposition head to head and be forced to answer some tough questions on the spot. I’m not sure what his re-election strategy is, but sitting out the debates surely can’t be translating into votes.
I didn’t see last Thursday’s debate in its entirety. Obviously Trudeau’s no-show had a lot to do with it, but I find it extremely annoying when two or more of the participants try to talk over one another. When a question is posed to one leader, I expect to hear an uninterrupted answer from that individual and not have to listen to one or more others try to get his or her two cents’ worth in at the same time. It’s nearly impossible to comprehend anything when two or three voices are simultaneously trying to hijack the microphone.
The moderator of these debates usually has a thankless job to perform. Not only is he tasked with having to ask all the right questions, he must act as a referee much of the time and try to maintain order. I have performed this role a few times in past years at municipal election debates and, thankfully, there have been only a few occasions when certain candidates have tried to commandeer the microphone. It can be frustrating when that happens and it’s times like that when you wish you had a remote control device capable of muting out the culprits.
Much of the post-debate consensus from last week was that Conservative leader Andrew Scheer was the clear winner, while the Greens’ Elizabeth May and the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh were left to see who could out-dullard the other.
If there was an actual loser in this debate, it was the Canadian public. Without the participation of Trudeau, we were robbed of seeing how the two frontrunners would have fared going toe to toe with one another.
Trudeau may want to revisit the things he said in 2015 when he vowed to be open and not hide. If he wants to demonstrate true leadership, he could probably do himself a huge favour by participating in these debates instead of not claiming to have the time, yet being able to work into his schedule a sit-down interview with a TV comedy show host. That comedian, incidentally, reportedly skewered him on American television.
It’s time for Trudeau to enter the lion’s den and show Canadians his true mettle by being a full participant in these debates.