There is no debate: formal political debates are a waste of time
Like him or love him, Kevin O'Leary made a "smart political move" when he opted out of a recent Conservative party leadership debate in Edmonton.
It seems counter-democratic doesn't it? Debates are a consistent feature at every level of politics here in Canada.
"Real debates serve to bring issues to the forefront, to clarify them, to educate people about where candidates, or the folks debating, stand on the issue...but that's not what leadership debates tend to do," says Moscrop, adding that it is rare for the debate moderator to press the candidates on the issues.
Instead, Moscrop argues society has come to care more about debate as spectacle and less about debate as a venue for discussion and understanding.
We pay way too much attention to the horse-race, to the gaffes, to the zingers, to the polls, and far less to the deep nuanced substance of the issues we should be discussing.- David Moscrop
As a result, Moscrop says, debates help with name recognition, and in his view a high profile candidate like O'Leary didn't have much to gain.
"Everybody knows who he is. The more he talks, the worse he sounds and he is a target every time he stands up in front of the candidates."
As for the notion that debates can create game-changing moments in elections, Moscrop says there's little evidence to support the idea and he says often those moments stand out because they are simply the most accessible moments.
There is very rarely a single event that has a huge impact. We just want to think it does because that's the story we tell ourselves.- David Moscrop
Of course, Moscrop says, the media could do a better job in structuring leadership debates.
"I do think there's a way to salvage them, but candidates and parties...may not have an interest in that because having a substantive issues-based debate, trying to do Lincoln-Douglas, is really tough. It's difficult and it exposes candidates and their flaws, their shortcomings and the limits of their ideas. And nobody wants to see that when they're running for office because it makes them look like an idiot."