Behind CBC The National's interviews with Canada's federal leaders

This is CBC News Chief Correspondent Peter Mansbridge's 14th federal election and, well, he's tired of hearing many Canadians describe the party leaders as "all the same" because they're not. So this time, he's trying something different.

CBC News Chief Correspondent Peter Mansbridge sits down for 1-on-1 interviews with the 4 leaders

CBC's The National will air a series of exclusive one-on-one interviews with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair over the course of this week. (Canadian Press)

This is my 14th federal election (no, the first wasn't Sir John A!) and I wanted to try something different. Why this time? Well, I was tired of hearing many Canadians describe the party leaders as "all the same," because they're not. They stand for different things and have conflicting positions on key issues.


In a very tight three-way race, the first in modern Canadian history, the difference between the three main leaders must be highlighted, must be explored, so that Canadians can make an informed choice.

"The Interviews" is designed to show that.

The premise is simple; the execution a challenge. We requested the same thing from each of the parties: a full 30 minutes with their leaders, uninterrupted in a venue of their choice, but away from the campaign trail, away from the rallies and the whistle stops and the media buses. All sessions would be completed before any was aired, ensuring that no leader would have the advantage of knowing the others' answers.

The interviews would be wide-ranging. No topic was off limits, and, as with every one we do, no questions were provided beforehand. I think that should be obvious but I find that a disturbing number of people, especially on social media, seem to think media organizations regularly do that. Well, we don't.

The goal is to help Canadians understand who these party leaders are and what they stand for, away from their well-honed "message track" as much as possible — and trust me that is awfully hard to achieve — away from their spin and away from their regular campaign speeches.

Each party finally agreed to our proposal just last week and that got producer Lara Chatterjee scrambling to pull it all off right away before anyone changed their mind.

3 cities, 4 days

Logistically it took us across the country, three cities in four days — from a park in Gatineau, Que. across from Parliament Hill, to a quiet ranch house in Delta, B.C., to the Laurentians outside Montreal and the tiny town of Ste.-Anne-Des-Lacs. The Elizabeth May interview, because of Green Party scheduling issues, won't be done until later this week and will air on Friday night.

The interviews

Starting Monday, CBC's The National is airing a series of exclusive interviews with the leaders of Canada's major political parties: Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper on Monday, Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau on Tuesday, NDP Party Leader Tom Mulcair on Wednesday and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May on Friday.

The interviews will air on CBC's The National at 9 p.m. ET on CBC News Network and at 10 p.m./10:30 NT on CBC-TV.

In the end, we hope the result shows some stark differences between these parties and their leaders. We hope to reveal some of what each of these people stand for, what their vision is for this country and what Canadians should expect from each of them right from day one if they form a government.

There is a gamble in such a program idea — news can break in the middle of this process. It did last week with the migrant story, poignantly highlighted by the photo of a three-year-old Syrian boy dead on a beach. The Trudeau interview was done last Tuesday, the Harper session on Thursday and the Mulcair sit-down was on Friday. The latest development in the migrant story didn't really take off until Thursday and there were continuing updates for days afterwards. However, as it turned out, all three leaders mention the issue but, because of the time differences, there were varying degrees of urgency to their remarks.

We know, when we attempt interviews like this, that we open ourselves up to criticism, no matter what we do. We're in, as polls seems to indicate, a fierce three-way race and, in a politically charged atmosphere, the stakes are high. 

But believe me, after years of those conflicting assessments, we're used to them. While we always listen to constructive criticism, we don't spend a lot of time worrying about partisan remarks.

We hope that what we'll do over the next week is help Canadians make an informed choice, and provide them with the information that they need to do that. That's part of our job. We're the public broadcaster, and we hope we're fulfilling our mandate and providing a major public service for Canadians by finding a vehicle to give viewers, listeners and readers a clear view of the differences between those who want to lead the country beginning Oct. 20.


Peter Mansbridge

Former Chief Correspondent CBC News

Peter Mansbridge is the former chief correspondent of CBC News and Distinguished Fellow, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.


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