Does big TV debate audience mean more people are more interested in Ontario than conventional wisdom claims?

Sep 30th, 2011 | By Randall White | Category: In Brief

It seems that Dalton McGuinty wasn’t the only one using his hands in the September 27 TV debate. Frank Gunn / THE CANADIAN PRESS.

I am never sure myself just who figures these things out, and/or exactly how they do it. But according to three different mainstream media reports: “Provincial leaders debate topped TV ratings in Ontario” ; “Ontario leaders debate …  most-watched program of the evening” ; and “1.45 Million Viewers Watch Televised Ontario Election Debate.”

To a mind untutored in the deeper mysteries of such calculations, the exact details revealed in the three different reports are somewhat apparently inconsistent and confusing. And I remain somewhat additionally confused about the CBC and hockey games.

“Media personality and political science guru Nelson Wiseman” in flight — originally from Manitoba, but currently at the University of Toronto.

But the big picture is clear enough: (1) “With one and a quarter million viewers” the “debate attracted more than twice as many … as … last provincial election” ; (2) “the Tuesday … political showdown” was “the most-watched program of the evening … Nearly 1.4 million Ontarians tuned into the debate that was broadcast on CTV, CBC, CP24, Global, Sun News Network and TVO … about 16% of the 8.8 million eligible electors” ; and (3) “A combined audience of 1.45 million viewers watched the Ontario provincial election debate on all networks …  In Ontario alone, it was the most-watched program of the night with 1.39 million viewers … The 90-minute debate [on CTV] had more than twice as many viewers as the 2007 debate on CTV.”

All this has prompted some speculation about higher voter turnout this coming October 6, 2011 : “Nelson Wiseman, Associate Professor at the University of Toronto, told 680 News it could mean more people will go to the polls this time around.“ This would be encouraging for all confirmed democrats. The last Ontario election in 2007 “set a record for the lowest voter turnout” since the current province was established in 1867. In 2007 “only 52.8% of people who were eligible voted. This broke the previous record [low] of 54.7% in the 1923 election.”

A “typical Ontario summer week ‘vacation’ in cottage country,” July 2011. Our thanks to January Dawn, and her “The Dawning of January” blog on family life in Canada’s most populous province.

Predictions of higher turnout in Ontario on October 6 can be at least mildly supported as well by the experience in this year’s Canadian federal election on May 2, 2011. Somewhat more than 61% of the eligible federal electorate turned out this past May 2 — after another “record low turnout of 59%” in the federal election of 2008.

Beyond the narrowest question of more democratic voter turnout on October 6, the surprisingly big audience for the September 27 leaders’ debate in Ontario arguably also ought to give some encouragement (if not quite enhanced credibility?) to those of us who regularly take a special interest in the regional life and times of Canada’s most populous province.

Sign in front of Trinty Anglican Church, Sarnia, Ontario, Winter 2009 — apparently a response to the “Atheist Bus Campaign” in Toronto!.

“Hardly anyone is really interested in Ontario” has been a recurrent refrain of contemporary Ontario history in our time. Just last Friday Adam Radwanski was telling us “that some television networks were reluctant to devote an hour-and-a-half of prime time during this fall’s campaign to a commercial-free debate between provincial politicians.” And the historian Arthur Lower posed the fundamental question “Does Ontario Exist?” as long ago as 1968.

Who knows? In the very end one strange legacy of Stephen Harper’s Canada — and the Western Prairie Province revival of the old Canadian resource economy which has arguably helped mobilize it — just may be that Ontario will discover its own existential regionalism at last!  (And something of this sort has already been a theme of the Premier Dad Dalton McGuinty who is asking to be compared “not to the almighty, but just the alternative”?)

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  1. Over the past weeks the Conservatives have been showing their true colours (and arrogance) on so many fronts. Think Rob Ford and his gravy train cuts currently jeopardizing the Toronto so many of us want to preserve. And think Baird with his golden business cards, MacKay with his govt jets, our regression to colony with the new Royal military, Harper and his new crime bill that has even the Americans wondering if Canada is becoming Tea Party North
    This coming Thursday those of us in Ontario who wonder how this country can survive our duly elected majority federal government for the next four-plus years have a chance to at least preserve an opposing voice to the federal Tories in this province. Let’s hope we are smart enough to do this. McGuinty is right when he says “don’t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative!”

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