Federal Liberals to try controversial new debate format at leadership event on Saturday

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

If you watched the last federal Liberal debate — on January 21 — I feel for you.

As many leadership debates are, it was was a ho-hum affair; it had too many candidates and not enough new ideas. It was what one writer referred to as a "snooze-fest."

[ Related: Candidates fail to impress in first Federal Liberal leadership debate ]

Well, for their second debate, in Winnipeg on Saturday, the Grits are trying something a little different.

According to party officials, the candidates won't face-off against each other, instead they'll only partake in one-on-one interviews with moderator Harvey Locke (Locke was the federal Liberal candidate who narrowly lost in the recent by-election in Calgary Centre).

Liberal Party spokesperson Sarah Bain says the new format has nothing to do with the criticisms from the first debate.

"This is our set schedule. We confirmed this back in December. We wanted to find a mix of traditional political debates and more intimate formats," Bain told Yahoo! Canada News in an email exchange.

"A few reasons we physically opted for different formats [for the Winnipeg and Halifax debates] is that the smaller settings cater well to more intimate conversations with candidates. We also wanted to give Canadians an opportunity to get to know the candidates through one on one interviews early on in the race."

A spokesperson for candidate George Takach thinks the so-called 'davos style' debates are a good idea.

"We think it's an interesting idea and the party should be commended for experimenting with new formats," Derek Raymaker told Yahoo!.

"All the candidates are trying to connect with Canadians about the ideas they are passionate about and their own personal stories. This format will allow them to do that in a more informal way."

Not everyone, however, is as enthusiastic about it.

"I’m not sure it will be a TV ratings bonanza," candidate Martha Hall Findlay told The Hill Times.

"There’s no reason we couldn’t do a one-on-one with each candidate and just put it up on the web site.

"To use the national televised time frame, my view is that that’s when people are looking for how the candidates interact, I’d love to have more candidate interaction for sure."

[ Related: Justin Trudeau leaving other Liberal Party leadership candidates in the dust ]

If you're still interested in watching it, the 'debate' will be live on CPAC at 2pm (EST) and include discussions on agriculture and rural issues, transportation, foreign ownership, export of natural resources and crime prevention.

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