Thanks to Twitter, I read this opinion piece in The Toronto Star advocating for science to be part of the leaders’ debates leading to the October 19 Parliamentary election. Breaking from previous tradition, there will be not two debates (one in English, one in French), but at least six. (One has already been held, and there are proposals for additional debates beyond the five currently scheduled.)
The authors would love to have a debate focused on science matters. That’s understandable, especially given how science has fared under the current Canadian government’s efforts to tightly control the information it produces. However, I think the compressed campaign schedule (though it is the longest Canadian campaign in history) will make it difficult to get either a debate exclusively on science questions or science questions into the debates that will be held.
That’s not to say it shouldn’t be tried. But I would recommend not copying those of us on your southern border concerning science debates. Rather I suggest you review our British cousins and adapt your strategy accordingly. Two science questions were part of a UK leaders debate in the 2010 campaign (though it was the one conducted over YouTube and Facebook), but that same campaign saw three cross-party debates at the science ministerial level. The science minister for the then-ruling Labour party debated shadow ministers from the two next largest parties (the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats).
I think it manageable to have the science minister and his shadow minister counterparts in the major Canadian parties debate each other. In particular, MP Kennedy Stewart, shadow minister for science and technology of the National Democratic Party, may be strongly motivated to have such a debate, given his interest in establishing a Parliamentary science officer. The bigger challenge may be getting something to happen during the current campaign. Good luck!
Postscript – The parliamentary system underlying these minister-level debates is not present in the United States, so it’s a bit harder to identify an American equivalent. For instance, I see little in it for the leaders and ranking members of the relevant Congressional committees to debate in an election year when they aren’t running against each other. And given the stronger division between the executive and legislative branches in the U.S., such a debate wouldn’t cover what a President might do. For that you might have to have candidates who could identify a Presidential science adviser early in their campaign – a rarity.