Everyone inside the political parties, the media and the punditry is going to wonder what the leaders' debate in the federal election will look like. It will be a topic of a lot debate because of who will be allowed to be in the debate and who not as well as what is the best sort of debate to have.
One reason we have an major issue this time was that we have six parties represented in parliament. The Conservatives, the NDP, the Liberals. the Bloc, the Greens and Forces et Démocratie. All three of the Bloc, Greens and F+D have two MPs. Realistically the past history of the debates would indicate that all six parties should be in the debate but that takes an over crowded event way over the top.
With so many parties with a legitimate claim to be in the debate, there is a strong case for debate that is only the three major parties or a debate that is only the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Official Opposition.
Jean-François Fortin, leader of the new Forces et Démocratie party in Quebec, could be kept out of the debate because they have never elected an MP as F+D.
Elizabeth May leader of the Greens and Mario Beaulieu leader of the Bloc could be excluded because they do not have party status in parliament.
What we could also see is two different four person debates, the Greens are included in the English debate and the Bloc in the French debate. Following this idea it is possible to see a five person French debate.
Here is my sense of what would ideal, ok and horrible for each party in the debate.
Stephen Harper Conservative - ideally all six parties in the debate, ok if there are five, horrible if it is only the Conservatives and the NDP
The more people in the debate the less chance there is for anyone to stand out and challenge the Prime Minister. With six leaders, four of them from Quebec, Stephen Harper starts to stand out.
Stephen Harper would really suffer if there was a two person debate with Tom Mulcair because Harper would lose. A three leader debate would be slightly better because Justin Trudeau would be there to make Harper look better
Tom Mulcair NDP - ideally a mano-a-mano debate with Stephen Harper, ok with the three main parties, horrible if it is all six
Mulcair wants to be Prime Minister, what he needs is for the race to be a two man race about who would be the better leader. A two person debate would allow him to cream Harper. If it is a three person debate there is a danger that Mulcair and Trudeau spend a lot of time going after each other and there is no clear alternative to Harper. Worst is a six person debate because Mulcair will be lost in all the noise.
Justin Trudeau Liberal ideally only the three major parties. ok if it is the three major parties and the Bloc, horrible if it includes Elizabeth May
Trudeau needs to be seen as an equal with Harper and Mulcair even though his caucus is much, much smaller and he has much less experience. He gets this in a three leader debate. OK would be the three major leaders and the Bloc.
Worst for Trudeau would be the inclusion of Elizabeth May because when his voters are people willing to vote Green and if May looks better than him it could be the end of any chance of the Liberals gaining an seats.
Elizabeth May Green - ideally only the three major parties, ok if it is the three major parties and the Greens, horrible if it is all six parties.
If Elizabeth May were excluded from the debate this would be seen as unfair which would increase donations and volunteers for the Greens. The Greens are strongest in BC and May's exclusion would be seen as an eastern snub of the only leader from BC. It would push a lot of people in BC to vote for the Greens just to stick to the eastern power elites, a political seam the CCF/NCP and later Reform benefited from.
Next best would be the three main parties and the Greens. In this debate format Elizabeth May can show she is a better and stronger leader than Justin Trudeau
Mario Beaulieu Bloc - ideally a French language debate that only includes the three major parties and the Bloc, anything else that excludes Forces et Démocratie, bad is anything that includes
Jean-François Fortin Forces et Démocratie - ideally being included, OK if the Bloc is excluded, horrid if the Bloc is included and F+D is excluded.
The Media - ideally thee main party leaders, ok any four leaders, horrible all six leaders
The media wants an entertaining event and this most likely to happen if there are only two or three leaders in the debate. The more leaders in the debate the lower the tension of the event. With five leaders the debates were boring, with six leaders the debate will be a snooze fest.
CPC NDP LPC Green Bloc F+D Media
Harper v Mulcair Horrid Great Horrid OK OK OK Great
3 major parties Bad Good Good Great Bad OK Good
Eng 3 Major + Green OK Bad Horrid Good OK OK OK
Fr 3 Major + Bloc OK Bad Bad OK Good Bad OK
Fr 5 parties OK Bad Bad Bad Bad Good Bad
5 Parties Good Bad Bad OK OK Bad Bad
6 Parties Great Horrid Horrid Bad Bad Good Horrid
Leaders involved in each English language debate
2011 4 - Michael Ignatieff, Stephen Harper, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe
2008 5 - Stéphane Dion, Stephen Harper, Jack Layton, Gilles Duceppe and Elizabeth May
2006 4 - Paul Martin, Stephen Harper, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe
2004 4 - Paul Martin, Stephen Harper, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe
2000 5 - Jean Chretien, Stockwell Day, Alexa McDonough, Joe Clark, and Gilles Duceppe
1997 5 - Jean Chretien, Preston Manning, Alexa McDonough, Jean Charest, and Gilles Duceppe
1993 5- Jean Chretien, Kim Campbell, Audrey McLaughlin, Preston Manning and Lucien Bouchard
1988 3 - Turner, Mulroney, Ed Broadbent
1984 3 - Turner, Mulroney, Ed Broadbent
1980 - I can not find the details
1979 3 - Pierre Turdeau, Joe Clark, Ed Broadbent - leader the Creditistes was not invited
1974 - I can not find the details
1972 - I can not find the details
1968 4 - Pierre Trudeau, Robert Stanfield Tommy Douglas and Réal Caouette