Canada's love of hockey trumps election debate

Sun Apr 10, 2011 6:31pm EDT
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By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canada's federal election campaign hit a very Canadian obstacle on Sunday, as the country's passion for hockey forced a nationally-televised debate between party leaders to be rescheduled.

The French-language debate set for Thursday was switched to Wednesday to avoid a conflict with the start of the National Hockey League's playoffs. Two Canadian teams, including the Montreal Canadiens, are in the hunt for the Stanley Cup.

In a rare show of unity the parties suggested the change when it became clear their debate would clash with the opening game of a series between the Canadiens and the Boston Bruins.

Hockey is close to a national obsession in Canada, and New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton admitted most people would rather watch the Montreal-Boston game instead of a political face-off.

"Were I not in this election I might very well make the same decision," Layton joked with reporters on Sunday, saying the networks should consider rescheduling Thursday's debate to avoid a conflict with the game.

The Bloc Quebecois, a separatist party that only runs candidates in the French-speaking province of Quebec, said it would be "heartbreaking" to make Quebecer's choose between watching hockey and politics.

The network consortium that runs the debates said the rescheduling was "in the best interest of the general public" and would ensure the political forums "reach as wide an audience as possible."

The English-language debate between the party leaders will proceed as scheduled on Tuesday.   Continued...

<p>Conservative leader and Prime Minister Stephen Harper leaves his campaign bus with his wife Laureen before boarding his plane in Saint-Hubert, Quebec April 10, 2011. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>