Leaders' French debate bumped by NHL playoffs

The French-language televised leaders debate — originally scheduled for Thursday — will be moved to Wednesday due to a conflict with the NHL playoffs.
Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe, seen addressing supporters in Montreal on Sunday asked that the French-language debate be moved up a day to avoid a programming conflict with the Montreal-Boston NHL playoff series. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Politics and hockey went head to head Sunday and, in the end, the nation's winter pastime held the bigger stick.

The parties and the broadcast consortium producing this week's televised leaders debates have agreed to move the French-language debate — originally scheduled for Thursday — up a day after a conflict arose with the NHL playoffs.

The French debate is now set for Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET, with the English-language debate set for Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET.

Wednesday was supposed to be a day off.

That all changed with the Montreal Canadiens' defeat of the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night and the finalizing of the NHL's Eastern conference play-off schedule.

First match: Montreal Canadiens vs Boston Bruins on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET.

A decades-old rivalry — at the same time the federal leaders were scheduled to hold their French-language debate.

Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe said Sunday morning there was no point in the politicians trying to compete with that.

"I want Quebecers to have the same opportunity to listen to that debate that Canadians will have," Duceppe said.

"We all know hockey is very popular in Canada, and also in Quebec, and I think it would be a better choice to have that debate on Wednesday, so that people who like hockey and (will) have the full opportunity to see the debate and then listen to the hockey game on Thursday night," Duceppe said.

"I think ratings are important," Duceppe continued, "but democracy is more important than ratings."

The debates are produced and carried by a broadcasters consortium made up of the CBC, CTV, Global and TVA in Quebec.

The Bloc sent a letter to the consortium Sunday formally asking for the French debate to be moved up a day to Wednesday, saying the programming conflict is "heartbreaking" for many Quebecers.

Duceppe called on the other party leaders to present a united front to put pressure on the broadcast consortium to make the change — and the other parties weren't about to disagree.

NDP Leader Jack Layton said he suspected a "very large number of people" would choose to watch the game between Montreal and Boston.

"Were I not in this election, I might well make the same decision," he joked.

Dimitri Soudas, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper's spokesperson, echoed Layton's comment in a post on Twitter Sunday: "These decisions lie with the television networks. We'll be there on the days they choose."

Martin Cauchon, the Liberal candidate in the Montreal riding of Outremont, told reporters the Liberals strongly support the debate being moved.

"This is important — and we should make sure as many people as possible watch" the debates, Cauchon said.

The two-hour debates will be divided into six segments. Each segment will start with a question from a Canadian voter, leading to a six-minute one-on-one debate between two leaders, before concluding with an open debate on the same topic.


James Fitz-Morris

Parliament Hill

James Fitz-Morris covered federal politics in CBC's Parliament Hill bureau from 2006 to February, 2016.