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1997 leaders’ debate

The Story

Five parties are vying for the attention of Canadian voters in 1997, making for many voices to keep track of in the leaders' debate. And since the Liberals under Jean Chrétien are enjoying a big lead in the polls, four of those voices - Jean Charest of the Progressive Conservatives, Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Québécois, Preston Manning of the Reform Party and Alexa McDonough of the NDP - are fighting to make a dent in their numbers. In this full debate, the quartet hammers Chrétien on unemployment, health care and national unity.

Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News Special
Broadcast Date: May 12, 1997
Guest(s): Jean Charest, Jean Chrétien, Gilles Duceppe, Preston Manning, Alexa McDonough
Moderator: Ann Medina
Panellist: Peter Kent, Jason Moscovitz, Craig Oliver
Reporter: Donna Freisen, Jacques Borbeau
Duration: 2:27:57

Did You know?

• "These debates, of course, are tightly scripted, in the sense that each leader will use well-rehearsed lines in defending his or her positions," wrote Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson on the day of the debate. "The uncertainty will lie in the exchanges among them."

• As noted in this clip, Charest drew applause for saying he intended to pass the Canada he received from his parents on to his children. That remark came after Gilles Duceppe said Canada had failed - a statement the other four leaders all took issue with.

• The general media consensus was that no one was the winner in the 1997 debate, but the Globe and Mail said Charest had gained the most. Of the other leaders, the analysis said that Chrétien was "animated and vigorous," Manning repeated almost word-for-word his debate message from 1993, McDonough was successful in her message but "began to sound shrill," and Duceppe, with his focus on Quebec separation, became "irrelevant."

• The French-language debate the following evening was interrupted when host Claire Lamarche suddenly passed out off-camera. 

• The election results: Liberal Party 155, Reform Party 60, Bloc Quebecois 44, NDP 21, Progressive Conservative Party 20 and 1 Independent. After redistribution, six more seats were added to the House of Commons bringing the total to 301.


Leaders' Debates 1968-2011: Arguing for Canada more