Monday evening’s official English-language federal party leaders’ debate is to have five “moderators” – which is to say, none at all. Instead, party leaders Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer, Jagmeet Singh, Elizabeth May, Yves-François Blanchet and Maxime Bernier will be interrogated by five equally ranked questioners. It would have seemed fitting and, one might hope, not too much to ask that debate organizers made some attempt to build a lineup of moderators who have a grasp on the entire country. As it is, Central Canadian assumptions, questions and concerns will likely dominate the evening. Canadians could use a little thought diversity.
That’s one diversity failure. Here’s another: Not only are all five moderators female, all are journalists – mainly broadcast journalists. That they all happen to be female shouldn’t matter, except that the monochromatic approach to moderators is so obviously a sop to modern identity politics. So that what counts is not what’s inside the person’s head or her character, but merely her gender.
Yet another lack-of-diversity problem: One journalist is from a large Toronto newspaper – but none is from either of Canada’s national newspapers. All have spent the bulk of their careers working in Central Canada or for eastern-based organizations, and four are actually from Ontario. All five appear to be predictably “progressive”.
In announcing the moderators, the debate consortium might as well have just said “Because it’s 2019”, with obvious reference to Justin Trudeau’s famous 2015 comment on why his cabinet was half-female. Since then, identity politics has grown even stronger. Still, even within that framework – i.e., submitting to the insistence on the “diversity” of an all-female lineup – the other issues were entirely avoidable. For one simple reason: much better female alternatives were available.
A better panel of moderators would show diversity of thought as well as having some conception of what Canada is actually like in 2019 – from Vancouver to St. John’s – and not form a bloc suggesting a throwback to the Central Canada-focused, “Laurentian elite”-run nation of 1867. A fresher and broader perspective could be expected to yield better questions – and, one would hope, better answers as well.
While only the debate itself will provide the answer, the records of the selected questioners of our would-be prime ministers and of our Dauphin, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, suggest cause for concern:
Dawna Friesen, Global News – Identity politics is likely to feature prominently in Monday’s debate questions. Friesen is an example of the tendency. She recently seemed enthralled by how British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was “stopped in his tracks” by the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court when he tried to prorogue Parliament. Agree or take Johnson’s side, what stood out was this part of Friesen’s tweet: “…delivered by the first female president of the court, Lady Brenda Marjorie Hale.” This suggests an infatuation with gender over the substance of whether Johnson or the UK’s Supreme Court itself acted contrary to the country’s largely unwritten constitution.
Rosemary Barton, CBC – A CBC lifer, including in its French division, Barton once took a selfie with Justin Trudeau. While selfies are a plague nowadays, it’s still difficult to imagine, for example, the late Cokie Roberts of ABC, one of America’s best-ever female journalists, doing the same with presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, either George Bush, or Barack Obama, all of whom she covered.
Althia Raj, Huffington Post – Perhaps surprisingly for someone who now works for a consistently left-leaning to left-wing online media organization, Raj has broader media experience than several other moderators, having worked for both PostMedia and Sun Media. She also has significant experience outside journalism, having been a foreign service officer and working at the UN. But here’s the rub: in a 2014 interview, when asked why she moved into journalism from the bureaucracy, Raj remarked that, “I was a big CBC radio fan and I applied for a Gzowski internship when I was at McGill. A recruiter I met while I was at the CBC ended up introducing me to some folks at the CBC in Ottawa and that’s really where I got my start.”
Lisa LaFlamme, CTV News – The genial and usually upbeat-seeming LaFlamme has spent her career in private-sector media, mostly CTV, but also lacks any Western Canadian exposure in her media CV. And while she seems a capable enough news anchor, she often seems too affable. She has never been known to dissect politicians and other prominent figures in the relentless manner of, for example, former Fox News’ host Megyn Kelly. Among the many who have felt Kelly’s wrath are Donald Trump, when Kelly co-hosted Fox’s first Republican primary debate in 2015.
Susan Delacourt, Toronto Star – Delacourt is as reliable a Laurentian and liberal as they come. She has been covering federal politics – often from Parliament Hill – since the 1980s. The Star’s declared mandate is “progressive”, with a long history of promoting highly interventionist state policies and providing platforms to left-wing columnists. Currently Delacourt is listed as a “scholar” and a “Trudeau mentor” at the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation, set up by the Jean Chretien government with $125 million in taxpayers’ dollars.
Her loyalties appear to extend across generations. In 2009, Delacourt penned a fawning e-book about Justin Trudeau, entitled, Justin Trudeau: Can he bring the Liberal party back to life? In which she mused about the younger Trudeau’s leadership potential. In the Star, Delacourt recently seemed to be attempting to redirect attention from the infamous blackface photos by laying the blame at the feet of those dastardly Yanks. She wrote that, “the biggest American intrusion into the Canadian federal election has been Time magazine’s publication of old photos of Justin Trudeau in brownface.”
The debate consortium could have done much better than the five moderators it selected. Here are five top candidates who reflect Canada regionally, politically and in their personal backgrounds – in other words, who show actual diversity.
Margaret Wente, Globe and Mail – Wente is not from the West, but it doesn’t matter. The longtime Globe columnist is originally from Chicago, which might explain her frank, no-nonsense approach, her crisp, clear writing style and her openness to conservative ideas and viewpoints from regions where progressivism and Laurentian assumptions aren’t repeated by rote.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Wente press Green Party Leader Elizabeth May on her party’s habit of attracting anti-Semitic wingnuts, and People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier on his lack of judgment. One can imagine Wente asking Bernier some variation of this question: “Mr. Bernier, you lost to Andrew Scheer by a vapour, with 49 percent of the Conservative Party’s votes. If you were in business, how smart would it be to give up a 49 percent market share to a competitor by shutting down your company and starting over?’’
Christie Blatchford, National Post – The lifelong Central Canadian journalist (she has worked at the Toronto Sun, the Globe and Mail and is now with the National Post) has never let location define her work. She is, quite simply, always focused on the average Canadian, and how politicians and police can hurt them when not in their corner. Whether critical of politicians’ cave-ins to blunt-force protests that undermine the rule of law (Caledonia), her eschewing of a common media assumption that every Indigenous Canadian is a permanent victim, or her grasp on how Alberta’s energy sector provides dignity for working men and women, Blatchford has always thought outside the Laurentian intellectual box. While instinctually conservative on many issues, she’s anything but a sycophant and could be trusted to go after every federal leader, including Andrew Scheer on some of his policy weaknesses.
Adrienne Batra, Toronto Sun – The Saskatchewan-born Batra was once the Manitoba director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, then served as an aide to the late Rob Ford, the troubled former Mayor of Toronto. Currently Batra is the Toronto Sun’s editorial page editor. This article noted that “Batra was the first woman of colour named editor-in-chief of a major metropolitan newspaper in North America, in 2015…but went largely unnoticed.” That appears to be because Batra doesn’t care about identity politics. She got where she is not by trumpeting her gender and skin colour, but by being smart, tough and contrarian.
Batra would be an ideal adopted-Ontarian who yet remembers the West. She would have little time for any candidate who dodges questions on fiscal profligacy. Given her background and character, it would not be surprising to see Batra asking Trudeau something like this: “Mr. Prime Minister, never mind blackface, when you travelled to my ancestral homeland last year, what possessed you to think it was national costume dress-up day?”
Catherine Ford – Ford is the crusty, retired former editorial page editor of the Calgary Herald. Ford would turn Alberta into a provincial version of The Annex in Toronto, where left-wing authors and social justice advocates comfort each other in a progressive echo chamber. Nonetheless, Ford is nothing if not opinionated. As a moderator, she could be expected to behave almost like an anti-LaFlamme. The lifelong feminist might well shred Pierre Trudeau’s son for his betrayal of feminism with his record of groping and of firing strong women.
Danielle Smith, CHQR Radio (Calgary) – Smith could grill six federal party leaders intelligently and make all squirm. Smith has a strong background outside journalism, having interned at the Fraser Institute, started up a property rights organization and led Alberta’s Wildrose Party from obscurity to Official Opposition. She knows of what she speaks and could be expected to sympathize with the challenges encountered by political leaders without being even slightly in thrall to the mystique. Unlike Friesen or LaFlamme, say.
Smith’s parents lost everything in the early 1980s under Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program. A libertarian with liberal social impulses, Smith is one of those rare journalists who reads policy papers. Smith’s questions would not be predictable, but she would have studied and memorized every policy position and platform plank of each of the six parties represented on that stage on Monday night, and would have zeroed in on each item’s strengths, weaknesses and inconsistencies.
Perhaps in 2020?
Given that Canada’s two national newspapers, the National Post and Globe and Mail, were excluded from the 2019 federal election debate consortium, perhaps they should figure out a way to play a greater role in the next election. With polls suggesting the October 21 vote will deliver either a minority Liberal or minority Conservative government, it’s quite likely the instability will see the government fall before long. Canada could be back in election mode as early as next year.
In this age of alternative media, the two newspapers and perhaps others in new media should set up their own “consortium”. And next time, choose Wente, Blatchford, Batra, Ford and Smith (if they prefer not even to tap into the other half of the human race). Election Debate 2020 would become a gritty, intelligent and unpredictable grilling of every federal leader.
Mark Milke is an independent policy analyst and author. His newest book is The Victim Cult: How the culture of blame hurts everyone and wrecks civilizations.