Since when was a debate considered optional?

The Canadian federal election is about a month and a half away and this means  the news will be flooded with articles about policy announcements and poll reviews. Better yet, the internet will be flooded with photographs of politicians holding babies and smiling with their groupies.

While the campaign period can be a bit frustrating—the leaflets and the constant negative advertisements really push my buttons—it is also an opportunity for journalists to actually ask questions of politicians in a public forum. The most obvious example would be a televised debate, where voters can compare candidates’ platforms and their leadership abilities.

But lately, debates don’t seem to be a priority for politicians.

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has said he won’t participate in any debates unless Prime Minister Stephen Harper is present, which is a shame because the PM doesn’t want to do many debates. The most recent cancellation is a debate on women’s issues. The media reported that the televised Sept. 21 debate won’t be taking place now that half the candidates—Harper and now, by consequence, Mulcair—won’t appear.

Personally, if I was the organizers, I would push to have the remaining candidates participate in the debate regardless of the fact that half the candidates refuse to attend. I know that some politicians would be willing to be in the spotlight.

The unfortunate fact is that candidates skip out on debates all the time, forcing organizers to cancel their events. It happened a number of times during the municipal elections in Toronto.

The first, and now presumedly the last, televised federal election debate occurred really early in the campaign period. It was hosted by Maclean’s and moderated by senior editor Paul Wells. Compared to previous televised debates, this one was extremely well done. The questions were intelligently designed, follow-up inquiries were allowed, and the segment on democracy was unique. Check out the video below for more of my thoughts on the journalistic integrity of the #macdebate.

And yes, isn’t the thumbnail attractive.

Despite the few journalistic flaws , debates are crucial to the democratic process. Voters have a right to hear candidates speak openly and honestly about their policies, without having to rely on stump speeches or photo-ops to make their decision (don’t even get me started with the uselessness of photo-ops).

Any politician who skips out on a chance to discuss important matters of state and engage with their constituency, is frankly a coward. I don’t want a Prime Minister who is afraid of being challenged on his or her policies, or a Prime Minister who thinks its not important to be part of a debate if certain candidates aren’t available. Speaking to the public and discussing ideas should be every candidate’s priority, and whoever figures that out will get my vote.

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