CBC Digital Archives

1979 leaders' debate

After months of anticipation and weeks of campaigning, it all comes down to one night. Televised leaders' debates can be the defining moments of federal election campaigns, a couple of hours that can make or break a politician's chances of running the country. From Pierre Trudeau's 1968 small screen debut to the fireworks and finger pointing of Mulroney vs. Turner and ending in 2011, the CBC Digital Archives presents each of the English debates from 1968 to 2011. Follow the news recaps with the "highlights" clips, or watch the debates in their entirety.

Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau and New Democrat Ed Broadbent pile on Progressive Conservative Joe Clark in this 1979 leaders' debate. Trudeau hammers away on what he calls Clark's indecisiveness and lack of strong vision for Canada, but Trudeau is also fighting to save his own job in a time of high inflation with nearly one million Canadians unemployed.
• The federal election of 1979 was held on May 22nd. At dissolution, the House of Commons had 282 seats.

• After the broadcast, the Toronto Star couldn't help but describe the debate as a prize-fight: "They had him on the ropes last night, but Tory leader Joe Clark punched defensively through to the end of his TV bout with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Ed Broadbent...".

• Reporting on the debate, the Globe and Mail polled several undecided voters in a Toronto riding who all felt that New Democrat Ed Broadbent came out on top in the debate while Joe Clark was most unimpressive. Of Clark and Trudeau, one respondent said, "It's really disheartening that we have two potential leaders of Canada and all they can do is call each other names and catch each other's slip-ups."

• Final election results: Progressive Conservative Party 136, Liberal Party 114, New Democratic Party 26, Social Credit Party six.

Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News Special
Broadcast Date: May 13, 1979
Guest(s): Ed Broadbent, Joe Clark, Pierre Elliott Trudeau
Moderator: David Johnston
Panellist: David Halton, Peter Desbarats, Bruce Phillips
Duration: 1:55:23

Last updated: February 3, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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