TORONTO — Canada's top five political leaders will face off in an election debate Thursday, but their stiffest competition may come from the U.S. vice presidential candidates.
Canadians are criticizing the decision by Canada's TV networks to schedule the country's sole English-language debate at 9 p.m. EDT, when Republican Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin goes head-to-head with Democrat Sen. Joe Biden in a highly anticipated confrontation.
"I'll be watching Palin and catching the highlights of the Canadian debate on the news," said Steve Weiner, a dentist.
Denis McGrath, a screenwriter, calls the decision by the Canadian networks unfortunate and "boneheaded."
"I'm definitely going to watch the Palin debate. There's a lot of Canadians that are going to watch," said McGrath, whose primary interest is seeing how Palin fares.
Canadians have traditionally shown keen interest in U.S. presidential elections but this year's race _ with its historic dimensions of race and gender _ has been even more closely watched.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper called early elections in hopes his Conservative party can increase its number of seats in Parliament in the Oct. 14 vote. Recent polls say the opposition Liberals are trailing badly and that the Conservatives could win a majority of seats.
Stephen Clarkson, a political scientist at the University of Toronto, said fewer Canadians watching the Canadian debate could help Harper, who is expected to come under attack by the four other party leaders.
"What's happening there in the states is pretty riveting, ours is not so riveting," said Canadian Broadcasting Corp. anchor Peter Mansbridge, saying Democrat Barack Obama and Palin are generating extra attention.
Green party leader Elizabeth May is urging Canadians to pay attention to their own election.
"It's extremely unfortunate timing," May said of the schedule. "I'm hoping that people will decide to watch the Canadian debate live and check out YouTube later for whatever exciting moments there are between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin."
Even the moderator of the Canadian debate is determined to see the Americans face-off.
Steve Paikin said he plans to tape the U.S. debate and watch it after he finishes moderating the one in Canada. He hopes other Canadians will follow his lead.
"There's an understandable curiosity factor about how well Palin is going perform," Paikin said. "I understand the interest, not only in America, but in Canada too."