TORONTO — It has virtually all of the trappings of a one-on-one date on “The Bachelor.”
The woman gushes over her date’s “beautiful blue eyes.” He takes her — a big-city girl — to a picturesque rural town, where she pushes herself outside of her comfort zone by learning how to drive a wheat combine. Smiling proudly, he runs alongside her as she drives through golden prairie fields, snapping photos like a good Instagram boyfriend. Sparks fly.
But this is not a traditional reality dating show, and these are not conventional reality show contestants.
She is Bonnie Crombie, the mayor of Mississauga, Ontario’s third-largest city. He is Andrew Scheer, the leader of the federal Conservative Party, who represents part of rural Saskatchewan.
They’ve been hooked up together for an episode of a show called “Political Blind Date,” which since 2017 has aimed to play Cupid for two politicians who — like Crombie and Scheer — hold opposing views on a policy issue. (In their case, it’s the needs of urban and rural voters.)
The show drew inspiration from a column in the Guardian newspaper that ran ahead of the 2015 general election in Britain, which set up lawmakers from opposing political parties on blind coffee dates and then published a transcript.
Mark Johnston, the showrunner of “Political Blind Date” and the founder of the Toronto-based Nomad Films, said his team wanted to do something “more ambitious.” They settled on the idea of pairing politicians with big policy disagreements and tasking each with planning a date that would seduce the other into sharing their outlook.
“When you’re stuck together for two days, you run out of talking points pretty quickly and you have to be yourself and you have to listen,” Johnston said.
They took their idea — part reality show, part documentary series — to Ontario’s public broadcaster, the Toronto Star newspaper and the Cable Public Affairs Channel, which gave the green light.
Johnston said the goal of the show, co-produced with Open Door Films, is to “make a little dint in the nature of political discourse in Canada,” which experts say is becoming more hyperpartisan and polarized.
Weeks ago, Canada’s top civil servant warned that the toxic nature of political dialogue could lead to somebody getting shot during the upcoming federal election campaign.
Last year, the Samara Center for Democracy, a nonpartisan think tank, released a report based on interviews with 54 lawmakers who were swept out of office after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election in 2015. It found “strong consensus” among them that partisanship had reached “often silly, sometimes dangerous levels.”
So it’s perhaps surprising that not one of the politicians the show has approached has swiped left on participating after finding out their date’s identity.
Now airing its second season and preparing to film a third, the show has tackled contentious issues including decriminalizing drugs, carbon taxes and prison reform.
This season’s premiere tackled one of the most divisive topics: guns.
In it, Glen Motz, a Conservative lawmaker and former police officer from Alberta, takes Marco Mendocino, a Liberal lawmaker from Toronto, to a gun club to meet legal gun owners who criticize the Liberal government’s proposed firearms legislation as too restrictive. They invite Mendocino to fire a gun on the range, but he declines.
Mendocino’s date for Motz involves meeting the mother of three children who were accidentally shot in a Toronto playground last summer, during a particularly deadly year for gun violence in the city.
Both men cry during their on-camera confessionals. While neither has moved closer to the other’s position, both agree they “owe it to Canadians to get this right.” The date ends with a game of hoops.
In a first-season episode on public transit, Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the federal New Democratic Party, took Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who was then a former city councilor with a well-known animus for bike lanes, on a bike ride in downtown Toronto.
“Waste of money,” Ford says of the bikes in the episode. The two do warm-up circles because Ford has not been on a bike in 35 years.
“My legs are okay, but my a-- is as sore as anything right now,” he says.
Before long, the two are calling each other “buddy” and bonding over their close relationships with their brothers, who introduced them to politics. Both rate the date a 9 out of 10 and say they’ve developed a great connection.
But a year later, Singh is calling Ford “petty” and accusing him of abusing his power.
The show’s format has been optioned in countries including Israel, Britain and South Africa. But there’s one country to which Johnston’s team is looking next: the United States. Johnston is putting together a pilot episode that will pair up American lawmakers who hold opposing views on border security.