As part of the Anglophone federal leaders' debate that took place on Thursday, September 9, 2021, two students from the Faculty of Social Sciences had the opportunity to participate in a simulation of the debate, each playing the role of a different candidate. Tracy Wang and Maxime Touchette, both 2nd year Master's students at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, took part in a unique exercise. They answered the journalists' questions as if it were a real debate.
Tracy and Maxime took the time to tell us how each one of them lived this exceptional experience. Here are their respective testimonies:
“On Tuesday, September 7th, Tracy and I had the opportunity to participate in a dry run for the English language Federal Leader’s Debate which took place on Thursday, September 9th, 2021. To say Tracy and I were selected would be an overstatement – we simply happened to be the first two students to respond to Professor Paris’ email a few weeks ago. I guess we could say that sorting one’s emails as a procrastination method truly does wonders sometimes.
A few days after speaking to the producers for the debate, we were given our ‘roles’, that is – the leaders we would have to impersonate during the dry run. I had the opportunity to play Mr. O’Toole, the leader of Canada’s Conservatives. Knowing nothing about the Conservative platform, I knew I had a bit of studying to do. On the day of the dry run, we arrived at the already quite locked-down venue, the Museum of Canadian History in Gatineau. Before we knew it, we were on set, under the lights, fielding questions from the moderator and some of Canada’s most respected journalists, fighting for policies which we had probably only read about a few hours before. The experience was truly humbling. Before we knew it, it was over.
During the rehearsal, I could not help but wonder what it must be like to be here for real, in front millions of Canadians from coast to coast to coast, fighting for political survival – fighting for the trust of Canadians. In those moments, it was humbling to remind ourselves that there were dozens of cameras pointed at us, each being watched by dozens of crew members, producers, assistants, operators – acknowledging the immense work that goes into ensuring the smooth running of such a democratic exercise. To think that this space would be filled with security details, staffers, campaign managers, and the next leader of our country in just a few hours – a strange thing to reflect on. To think that the set would be disassembled, the place swept up, and the staff called away a few hours later – and that this would return to being a sight where Canadians learn about our short but difficult history, even stranger. Democracy is an extraordinary performance – I’m grateful I got to witness it from such a unique angle, even if it was just for a few hours.”
“I was sitting in a virtual afternoon meeting near the end of August when I got an email notification from my former professor, Roland Paris. It had a relatively mysterious premise, saying that the first two individuals who responded to his email would help the organizers of the televised English national leaders’ debate during their debate rehearsal. I thought the opportunity was intriguing and I immediately replied expressing my interest in volunteering. Professor Roland emailed back and said I was in!
Later that day, a producer from CBC sent me an email and told me a little bit about what the task would consist of: the producers of the show were looking for people who would be willing and available to stand in as the leaders and answer questions, a process which would allow the moderator and journalist to prepare for any potential situations that could arise during the real debate. I said I would be happy to help and we set up a call to go over the general parameters of the assignment. One of the questions she asked at this time was whether I had any debate experience. I told her no, but that I had campaigned for the NDP during the 2019 federal election and that I had seen Jagmeet Singh speak in person. We decided that Jagmeet would be my preferred candidate to impersonate, so over the next few days, in preparation for the debate, I learned all I could about the NDP platform.
When I joined a virtual meeting the producer organized to go over some of the details and to field questions with the other “candidates”, I realized the other person who responded to Professor Roland’s email was my good friend, Maxime. I immediately felt much more comfortable knowing that someone I knew would be participating in this experience with me.
Maxime and I showed up at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Québec promptly before 7, our “call time.” We were greeted by the producer outside the museum and after waiting for the other “candidates,” we were whisked away to do a COVID screening and to fill out an NDA. The NDA was required because we were told we were going to be asked the exact same questions as the real leaders during their actual debate. Once all the candidates arrived, we went inside and waited for about an hour while the technical crew made adjustments for the filming. While we waited, we had our first celebrity sighting: Annamie Paul, who was at the venue with her team ahead of her debate. This was very exciting and unexpected! I continued to look over the NDP platform and a “cheat sheet” I had created to have on the podium with me with all the party’s major commitments. Our next step was then to get mic’d up and then to take our positions at the podium. Our debate was starting!
From 9-11 pm that night, us five candidates had an intense debate that very much mirrored the official one (albeit with less interruptions on our part.) Our host was Shachi Krul, who I found personally to be an amazing moderator. There were five themes of the debate: affordability, climate, COVID recovery, leadership,accountability and reconciliation. Just like the actual leaders’ debate, we were systematically posed questions under these topics from the moderator, journalists, and undecided voters. We were encouraged by the moderator and journalists to be cutthroat and to cut each other off so that the moderator could practice exercising some degree of control of the discussion. Overall, I found the exercise to be very fun and a good exercise of healthy debating skills. Other celebrity sightings included my CBC host girl-crush Rosemary Barton and four other prominent journalists from various networks. To be in the same room as these individuals, much less to be at the podium where the national leaders found themselves two nights later, was an immense privilege and a unique experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”