Jiminy Cricket says: "Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread"
Harper's strategy of avoiding debate with his rivals in national audiences isn't only to avoid looking like a fool...it's not even his own idea. This past year two of Harper's uber-right-wing heroes - Netanyahu and Cameron - did the same sorta thing. Both Netanyahu and Cameron weren't doing well in the polls, both Netanyahu and Cameron relied on the 'fear factor' and both avoided debating their main rivals in front of a national audience...both went on to win. When harpo saw this he figured it was a 'good thing'.
The idea of fighting on the ground of harpo's own choosing is a very old one, it's #2 in Sun Tzu's 'Art of War'. The idea of not looking like a fool is undoubtedly even older. It shouldn't be a surprise then that harpo would want to avoid an honest discussion or the possibility of having to face any controversial questions that he hasn't rehearsed the answers to. Considering that in Parliament harpo hardly ever responds to the questions being asked preferring instead to resort to insults and innuendo that are irrelevant to the questions accepting an invitation to an honest debate would be surprising. That's why steve won't participate in the consortium debates but only in debates where he feels least likely to stumble in front of millions of Canadians much to the delight of his uninformed base.
The other big difference between here and the UK or Israel is that the major networks - the CBC, CTV and Global - who are being shunned by harpo will each be broadcasting their bits and bites of these smaller venue debates from the own jilted lover perspective. This framing by the major networks that harpo's avoidance strategy allows may well overcome any home field advantage he has attempted to gain. Remember, Sun Tzu's #1 rule is 'know your enemy' and the way Canada's national audience will know harpo, Mulcair, Trudeau and May will be through the framing of those who see their historic position, and maybe their paychecks in the CBC's case, in jeopardy.
Harpo's debate strategy is a huge mis-calculation in the long run-up to Heave Steve Day.