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The “mainstream” gives O’Toole a gift

TORONTO – The election campaign is not over yet but its first week has been all in O’Toole’s favour. Saturday, we saw one more example of the winds blowing into his sails when the group preparing for the one debate the English-speaking public will witness declared Maxime Bernier not fit to participate. Insofar as these debates influence anyone, it means there will be only one “Conservative” spokesperson on stage.

Bernier, a former Cabinet Minister in Harper’s government and now leader of his own party, the People’s Party of Canada, might have conceivably presented well even in the French language debate. Now we’ll never know if his vision for Canada is a viable alternative to those being presented by other parties.

The Media group – the consortium/commission – “sponsoring” and organizing the debate decided Bernier is ineligible to participate under its set of rules. However, it makes sense to the Commission to include Francois Blanchet, Bloc Quebecois leader, in the English language debate. His party is not presenting candidates outside of Quebec. Moreover, the Green Party leader, Annamie Paul, who has already abandoned the national campaign in order to concentrate on her own constituency, is deemed eligible for the debate.

The Commission received approximately $ 2.5 million to stage the event(s). It has determined which outlets can be a part of the panel questioners. These include the CBC, which already receives $1.5 billion annually to inform as well as to entertain the public while it [supposedly] “shapes the Canadian identity”. According to its own annual report, its share of the viewing market is dropping like a stone.

It does not include the Ethnic Media and Press Council of Canada whose member outlets represent the third language communities which comprise 23% of the population, as per Census 2016. The percentage is likely higher today, given immigration.

As a sop to that community, the panel includes input from Rogers Media group. In 2015, Rogers cancelled multilingual programming, restoring it only after the CRTC granted it a license valued at $20 million annually because the Corriere Canadese, and others, offered alternatives.

The major parties have already by-passed the public debate format – they are focused on political advertising. In this regard, Liberals and NDP have burst out of the gate with particularly aggressive messages, as have the Conservatives. Their respective leaders will be “under the gun”, so to speak. As the incumbent prime Minister, Justin Trudeau will constantly be on the defensive. The NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh, will have to prove he should be taken seriously.

How will any of the candidates test their mettle against the others? The English language debate will not take place until September 9. By then it will be too late for some, as “unforeseen forces” occupy the public’s attention: Afghanistan refugees; President Biden’s virtual melt-down and consequences for Canada, China’s relentless advance into “our space”; Fourth Wave of Covid-19 and our economic sustainability.

But, hey, it is only week one in a five-week campaign. When all is said and done, something significant may be said that will make this country stronger.

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