Politics·Video

From the CBC Vault: Viewers panned the first televised election debate

The first televised leaders' debate in Canada was held in 1968 but it left much to be desired for many who tuned in.

First leaders' debate was held in 1968 but left much to be desired

FROM THE VAULT: Viewers pan first televised election debate

7 years ago
Duration 1:52
Canada's first televised national leader's debate saw Pierre Trudeau, Tommy Douglas, Robert Stanfield and Real Caouette square off in 1968. The viewers were not all that impressed.

The first federal leaders' debate was held in 1968. It was billed as a monumental moment for Canadian television — coming nearly eight years after the Americans hosted their first televised presidential debate — but most viewers dismissed it as a snoozefest. 

The front page of the now-defunct Halifax Mail-Star panned the event as a "yawn." 

The negative reaction didn't come as much of a surprise to Liberal leader Pierre Trudeau, waging his first prime ministerial election. When he arrived at the debate reporters asked him if he had any butterflies.

"Butterflies, where?," Trudeau joked. "No, no, I just hope I don't fall asleep during the program." 

The debate featured Trudeau, Progressive Conservative Party leader Robert Stanfield and the NDP's Tommy Douglas. Real Couette, leader of the Quebec-based Creditistes, joined for the last portion in French.

The day after the debate, CBC reporters fanned out across the country asking Canadians what they made of the first foray.

One knife-wielding baker with a thick Scottish brogue told CBC that the questions left much to be desired.

Another man, from the Prairies, said he didn't think the debate would have influenced anybody voting. 

"I don't think so — especially not a Western farmer I wouldn't think." 

And while some 15,000,000 Canadians tuned in for part of the debate, others said they couldn't stomach it. "I didn't watch it," one man said. "I don't believe anything those guys are saying anyway."

Watch our footage from the CBC vault to see the reviews for yourself. 

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