Here's the door opened by Harper today on a one-on-one debate with Michael Ignatieff:
"We're open to any number of possibilities. We could have a traditional debate of Parliamentary leaders, we could have a debate that includes Miss May in such a format, we could have a debate that includes every party that's on the ballot," Harper said.Note how all of his comments are therefore couched as being in the hands of that broadcast consortium who is the arbiter of what we should see. So maybe he's ultimately going to leave it to them and he's not fully prepared to stand behind his bravado. That's my read of it.
"We could also have a debate between Mr. Ignatieff and myself, since, after all, the real choice in this election is a choice between a Conservative government or an Ignatieff-led government that all of these other parties will support," he said during an Ontario campaign stop.
"The networks will ultimately have to make a decision that serves the public interest and we will insist that it treat ourselves and all parties fairly."
However. He's put it out there and may not be able to stop what he's unleashed even if he thought he was musing aloud in a freebie situation where the networks will ultimately decide. If two politicians in a democracy want to debate each other, one would think there's nothing to stop them. Any venue would love to host that and the interest would be off the charts. The ratings conscious broadcast consortium's antenna just went up today. Given that they're grappling with the May issue, why not rejig things now? Perfect timing.
What is Harper thinking here though? Assuming he intends to pursue the idea. Of course it's a no-brainer for Liberals, it facilitates the argument that the election is a choice between two parties that can form government. For Harper, it must be his majority government or bust position again that he's intent on pushing and he thinks he can make that case in a debate. Too focused on the end game though in his strategy. And the risks are higher for him as a front-runner to elevate his opponent and give up the stage to a national spotlight on an alternative Prime Minister.
If it happens, excellent. Could be one of the great Canadian debates.
Update (4:45 p.m.): Note this from Twitter, Harper no doubt reacting to the quick Ignatieff reply from earlier of "any time, any place." Looks like it could very well be on. Woot.
Update (11:55 p.m.): This is what seems to be the resolution: "...the traditional format with some one-on-one engagement at the beginning of each segment." Doesn't sound like a full one-on-one is in the cards.