Jian Ghomeshi, left, host of Canada Reads, stands with Terry Fallis, holding his winning book, and Ali Velshi, who defended The Best Laid Plans during the annual CBC book debate. (CBC)

Following a debate that centred on how a book can contribute to change in Canada, the panellists of CBC's Canada Reads have decided on the winner of this year's book battle.

Carol Shields's Unless was knocked out early in voting during Wednesday's debate, leaving the final contest between The Birth House by Ami McKay and The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis.

In the final vote, only Debbie Travis, who had defended The Birth House for the last three days, voted for it. The 2011 winner is The Best Laid Plans.

A political satire, the winning title follows a crusty, old, engineering professor named Angus McLintock, who agrees to run as an MP because he's certain to lose, but is accidentally swept into office. He decides to see what good an honest MP, who doesn't care about being re-elected, can do in Parliament and hilarity results.

Ali Velshi, the CNN journalist who defended The Best Laid Plans,  said Canada needs people like McLintock.

"This book is about the current thing that affects us now in our world, which is the people who make decisions for us," he said.

The book "speaks to frustration and disenfranchisement around the world."

Former NHL enforcer Georges Laraque agreed, saying the book could inspire interest in the political process in younger readers.

"Today, in Canada, people don't vote and we live in a democratic country. If people read this book, they would want to vote. We need this," he said.

Travis defence

In her defence of The Birth House, Travis argued the novel shows how people prevail in times of change and how a sense of community contributes to quality of life.

"This is a large country but it is made up of communities. We're losing our communities," the TV personality said, adding that the character of Dora — a midwife living in turn of the century Canada — is inspiring young women to enter the profession today.

Laraque said he believed The Birth House would not appeal to men, while actor Lorne Cardinal described the book as regional, saying it was hard for him as a "Prairie boy" to relate to the Nova Scotia setting.

The two men and remaining panellist, singer Sara Quin, all voted for The Best Laid Plans.

Fallis 'thunderstruck'

Fallis, reached on the phone after the winning book was declared, said he was "thunderstruck" at the decision.

"If I'm sounding a bit muffled it's because I'm curled on the floor of my library in a fetal position breathing into a paper bag," quipped the veteran political insider, showing his characteristic sense of humour.

He also thanked Velshi for defending the book against such a strong field of competitors.

"He did an amazing job. He was passionate, but polite. He really presented the merits of the book wonderfully and against such great books," the author said.

Fallis's book is an unlikely success story. It was his first novel and was rejected by numerous publishers before he decided to self-publish it in 2007.

The Best Laid Plans then went on to win the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour in 2008. He subsequently landed a publishing contract with McClelland & Stewart.

Both Velshi and Fallis will be guests on CBC's Q cultural affairs show on Thursday.

Canada Reads panellists began the 2011 debate on Monday with five books chosen from a list suggested by readers across Canada.

This year's discussion, streamed live on the internet, was billed as a way to choose the essential Canadian novel of the last 10 years.