TORONTO – Four federal party leaders will go head to head tonight as they face off in the first election debate.
The economy is expected to be front and centre, as it has dominated the first few days of the campaign, but the debate will also touch on energy, the environment, democracy, foreign policy and security.
Stephen Harper, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Green party Leader Elizabeth May hunkered down Wednesday to prepare for the debate, which runs from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. eastern daylight time.
Maclean’s magazine, which is running the debate, is keeping the actual format under wraps, but it is said to include individual question-and-answer periods between the leaders and political editor Paul Wells, plus free discussion and final statements.
The questions will be drafted by the magazine and won’t be distributed beforehand. The speaking order was decided in a draw, which was also kept confidential.
Observers expect Harper, as prime minister, to be the target of most of the debate attacks, but the Conservatives say he is ready.
Many eyes will be on Mulcair, as a much-lauded debater, while Trudeau is the greenest of the bunch – May having faced Harper in an election debate in 2008.
The Toronto debate is to air on the City-TV network, Omni stations and CPAC, as well as a chain of AM radio stations. It is to be streamed live across various Rogers-owned websites, on Facebook and YouTube.
“The debate format will avoid canned speeches, providing the leaders with the opportunity to engage with each other,” the magazine said in a news release.
“Wells will have the latitude to pose follow-up questions to ensure Canadians have the most information and insight possible.”
In past campaigns, debates have been hosted by a consortium of the major broadcasters, but Macleans said they had become increasingly complex, with questions coming from ever-larger panels and from hand-picked “ordinary Canadians.”
“We prefer simplicity.”
Leaders have been asked to keep their answers short and limit their closing statements to two minutes or less.
Other debates are planned. The Globe and Mail is organizing one for Sept. 17, the University of Toronto’s Munk Debates is planning a leader’s exchange on foreign policy and French network TVA will host one on general topics on Oct. 5.