Voters 'yearning' for one-on-one debate, Ignatieff tells Harper

LONDON, ONT. — The Globe and Mail

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff speaks during a campaign stop in London, Ont., on March 31, 2011 (GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images)

Michael Ignatieff has issued an open letter to Stephen Harper urging him to reconsider a one-on-one debate, saying he will make it easy for him by meeting him "at the time and place of your choosing."

Sent Friday - and it's no April Fools joke - the Liberal Leader's letter says he was disappointed "and puzzled when you reversed your commitment, and tried to back out yesterday."

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But, Mr. Ignatieff argues, it's not too late to "rectify the situation."

The Liberal chief has been ramping up the pressure on Mr. Harper since the Conservative Leader suggested he would meet his opponent for a one-on-one encounter - and later retracted.

Mr. Ignatieff says that only two leaders have a chance of becoming prime minister, himself and Mr. Harper, and that Canadians would like to see the two principals face off.

The one-on-one debate would be in addition to the traditional debate between all of the leaders.

"This is the kind of contest that Canadians are yearning for," Mr. Ignatieff writes. "I know because I have been meeting ordinary Canadians of all ages, backgrounds and political allegiances at events across Canada. It's absolutely exhilarating. In fact, I would recommend you try it."

Mr. Harper's style of campaigning has been criticized as over-managed and controlled.

"In closing, I urge you to reconsider your reversal and stick to your word," Mr. Ignatieff wrote. "I strongly believe our fellow Canadians deserve this chance to see the different visions leadership between only two people who can become prime minister of this country at the end of this election."

Speaking in Halifax Thursday, Mr. Harper said he's only willing to take part in the debates organized by a consortium of TV broadcasters, which has opted for the traditional four-leader format.

"Our first preference was a direct debate with the leader of the coalition," the Tory Leader said. "We're not interested in multiple debates."

Mr. Harper alleges that the Liberals failed to back this idea of a one-on-one during consortium talks. The Conservative proposal would have excluded the Bloc, NDP and Greens from the debate.

"If Mr. Ignatieff wanted that [format]debate he could have chosen it. But he didn't," he said. "We're going to spend the rest of our time campaigning across the country."

NDP Leader Jack Layton, who must keep his party an option in the minds of left-leaning voters who want to prevent a Conservative majority, does not want to find himself marginalized - the potential result of a two-man debate.

"I think Mr. Ignatieff is showing that he isn't a true democrat," he said in response to the Liberal Leader's letter Friday. "He wants to exclude people from the national discussion who have every right to be there. I think that should concern everybody."

With a reports from Steven Chase and Gloria Galloway

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