Use television to rekindle political fire: Panel

The spark needed to rekindle political passion in Canadian voters begins with television.

In a wide-ranging forum on Canadian democracy, Maclean’s magazine national editor Andrew Coyne and senior columnist Paul Wells joined former federal NDP leader Ed Broadbent, former Liberal party mandarin Eddie Goldenberg, author John Ralston Saul and conservative columnist Rick Anderson at a town hall meeting at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts in Toronto.

Moderated by CPAC’s Peter Van Dusen, the panelists attempted to answer the question ‘Is our Democracy Broken: How do we fix it?’

While the panel touched on issues such as proportional representation and low voter turnout, most of their focus was fixed on the role of televised debates among party leaders during election campaigns.

“If we constructed the campaign around the debates we could make voters really feel a part of the election,” Coyne said.

He also proposed that front-line ministers and their Opposition counterparts become more involved in airing the issues of the campaign.

Broadbent agreed, wanting debates to be formulated as discussions on the topic of the day.

(They could) involve their critics and other Members of Parliament. I think that it would make it a lot better,” Broadbent said.

“People… want to watch a serious discussion and make up their minds not about who is the best fighter, but who is the most thoughtful kind of leader.”

Anderson, a former Liberal-turned-Reform party supporter, doubts however the mainstream political parties would agree.

As long as the party leaders determine the formula to the debates, then nothing will change, Anderson explained. “Basically the parties get to decide how many there is going to be, and the fewer the better,” he said.

“The opposition party only needs one punch to land and they don’t want any time for a punch to come back. The (sitting) government wants to have the least number of these (types) of opportunities to happen. As long as that group of people decides the outcome, then we are going to have what we have,” he said.

Saul, who is married to the sitting Governor General, Michaëlle Jean, added that future debates should also be conducted in French.

Filed by Michelle Nash