Debates to feature one-on-one exchanges

Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff will have a chance to go head-to-head when they take part in one-on-one exchanges during next week's televised election debates.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper will take part in short one-on-one exchanges during the televised debates. (Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff will have a brief chance to go head-to-head when they take part in one-on-one exchanges during next week's televised election debates.

The six-minute-long exchanges between two party leaders will be part of the broader televised debates, English-language debate producer Mark Bulgutch said Wednesday.

"We hope that will be a lively part of the evening," Bulgutch said, noting that he hopes the leaders will "have at each other in a brisk exchange."

The decision to go with one-on-ones came up during negotiations with the leaders, Bulgutch told reporters.

He said the six-minute round will be followed by a debate on the same topic involving all four leaders.

The TV debates

  • In English: Tuesday, April 12, 7 p.m. ET
  • In French: Wednesday, April 13, 7 p.m. ET

One-on-one lineup (six minutes each):

English-language debate:

  • Conservative Leader Stephen Harper versus Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe
  • Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff versus NDP Leader Jack Layton
  • Harper versus Ignatieff
  • Duceppe versus Layton
  • Ignatieff versus Duceppe
  • Layton versus Harper

French-language debate:

  • Ignatieff versus Duceppe
  • Harper versus Layton
  • Ignatieff versus Harper
  • Duceppe versus Layton
  • Harper versus Duceppe
  • Layton versus Ignatieff

The details of the televised leaders' debates were unveiled Wednesday. Opening statements were dropped but each leader will have a chance to make a brief closing statement, Bulgutch said.

The possibility of a one-on-one debate has been a hot topic during the election campaign. Harper had mused about the possibility of a one-on-one debate, but then distanced himself from the idea and said he accepts the judgment of the broadcast network consortium. Ignatieff kept up the pressure, writing an open letter to demand a one-on-one leaders' debate.

The online back-and-forth sparked a social media frenzy,  prompting comedian Rick Mercer  to offer to host a one-on-one debate at a Toronto concert hall.

The Green Party has also taken issue with the televised debates, arguing that party leader Elizabeth May should be included.

The broadcast consortium debates involving Harper, Ignatieff, NDP Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe will take place April 12 in English, with the French-language debate the next day, April 13, following a date change to avoid a programming conflict with the NHL playoffs. Both debates will take place in Ottawa.

Canadians can take part by submitting questions that they would like the leaders to answer.

"We already have several hundred in both languages, which we are diligently reading," Bulgutch said.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has said Canadian broadcasters are trying to keep alternate voices out of the televised leaders debates. (Andy Clark/Reuters)

"We will narrow that down to six in each language, and we will go out and record these Canadians asking their questions and play them back to the leaders on the debate nights."

After the format of the debate was revealed, the producers held a series of draws to determine everything from where the leaders will stand on the stage, to who will have the last closing statement.

"The silly ones are for things like dressing rooms — we haven’t even seen the dressing rooms yet but we’re going to draw for them anyway," he said, noting that it was all in the spirit of fairness.

The broadcast consortium comprises representatives of CBC/Radio-Canada, CTV, Global and TVA.


  • This story has been edited to update schedule information for the French-language debate. That debate will now take place Wednesday, April 13 at 7 p.m. ET, as noted above.
    Apr 10, 2011 6:30 PM ET

With files from The Canadian Press