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27 2011

Do Leaders’ Debates Matter?

Syndicated from: Steve Paikin

So, tonight's the night.   For the first and only time during this 2011 Ontario general election campaign, the leaders of the three main political parties will be on one stage for 90 minutes, taking questions from Ontarians.   I can't recall an election where the polls were less helpful in figuring out who's where.  In fact, just today, there are two new polls out there, one with the Liberals up by four points, the other with the Tories up by four points.   Clear as mud, right?   While no "clarifying issue" has presented itself yet in this campaign, that could happen tonight between 6:30 and 8 p.m.   Do debates matter?  They sure did in 1984, when Brian Mulroney destroyed John Turner over patronage. In that 30 second exchange, the outcome of the election was sealed.   They sure did in 1993, when Lucien Bouchard peppered newly-minted prime minister Kim Campbell on the size of the deficit. Campbell didn't know and lost her mojo after that.   They sure did in 1995, when a strong performance by Mike Harris derailed what had been a solid campaign by the Liberals' Lyn McLeod to date. On the strength of the debate alone, McLeod dropped 15 points, and Harris picked 'em up.   They sure did in 1999 when Harris bested new Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty.  Harris skilfully turned his back on McGuinty throughout the evening, marginalizing him, both on issues and geographically. Harris won a second consecutive majority, thanks in part to his performance that night.   And they sure did earlier this year, when Jack Layton demolished Michael Ignatieff with one line about the Liberal leader's attendance record in the house of commons.    So, yes, debates do matter. And if you haven't paid much attention to this election campaign so far, now's the time. Devote 90 minutes to improving your knowledge on the leaders, the issues, and the campaign. If history's any indication, you won't be sorry.    Join us at 6:30 pm for the leaders' debate, then don't touch that dial, as at 8 pm, we'll analyze what transpired on The Agenda with former MPPs Monique Smith, Norm Sterling, Howard Hampton, Green Party rep Victoria Serda, and The Star's Jim Coyle.  

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