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Party leaders agree: Don't mess with the playoffs

David Krejci of the Boston Bruins tries to get a shot past Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens on March 24, 2011 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.

Elsa/Getty Images/ The Globe and Mail

It's hard to think of anything as stereotypically Canadian as rescheduling an election debate because of a hockey game. But it really happened.

The French-language debate was supposed to be held Thursday, the same day the Montreal Canadiens are scheduled to face the Boston Bruins in their first playoff game.

But on Sunday, Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe suggested a change of date.

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"All I'm asking is that the debate take place Wednesday so that Quebeckers have as much access to this debate as Canadians," he said. "We all know that hockey is very popular in Canada and in Quebec, which is why it would be a better idea to push the French debate back to allow hockey fans to watch the debate as well as the game on Thursday night."

Rather than take issue with the Bloc leader's nationalistic semantics, the other party heads conceded the point.

"A very large number of people are going to choose to watch the Canadiens play," said NDP Leader Jack Layton. "Were I not in this election, I might make the same decision."

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said he was not opposed to a change, while a spokesman for Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said the decision belonged to the broadcasters.

But Troy Reeb, chair of the Broadcasting Consortium, said Sunday that his organization was actually contacted directly by all of the parties after the playoff timing was announced, leading to the decision to reschedule the debate for Wednesday. The English-language debate will take place the night before.

In a statement, the Consortium said its goal was to reach as wide an audience as possible, and that rescheduling was in the "best interest of the general public."

Mr. Reeb said he did not see the decision as controversial.

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"I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone who wants the debate to be held on a night when many francophones are otherwise engaged," he said.

Not everyone agrees. Musician and author Dave Bidini, who writes regularly about hockey, decried the move.

"I love hockey and I love playoff hockey, but it's not cute nor typically northern nor uber-hoser when the national game supplants far more important and pressing concerns, like in whom we will place the trust of governing our country," he said. "Hockey defines our character, good and bad. In this instance, it defines a people whose priorities and interests are completely out of whack."

On Twitter, many were equally scornful.

"The French federal debate is less important than a hockey game?" wrote British Columbia's Cheryl DeWolfe. "Way to prioritize, Canada."

During the last federal election in 2008, it was a hockey mom, not a hockey game, that threatened the French language debate's timing.

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The event was scheduled for the same night that Sarah Palin faced off against Joe Biden in the debate between vice-presidential running mates in the U.S. election.

At the time, Tony Burman, former chair of the network consortium, said the scheduling decision was made "as if to ensure that Canada's debate this time is truly irrelevant."

In that case, the debate was not rescheduled and 1.4 million people tuned in to the Canadian debate. Last year, an average of 1.3 million viewers tuned in on French-language RDS to watch the Habs' first-round playoff defeat of the Washington Capitals.

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