Government of Canada announces the creation of an independent Leaders’ Debates Commission

News release

Ottawa, October 30, 2018 - The Government of Canada is following through on its commitment to support a robust process to organize leaders’ debates during federal election campaigns. National debates work to enhance Canadians’ knowledge of the federal parties, their leaders and policy positions.

The Honourable Karina Gould, Minister of Democratic Institutions, announced today the creation of an independent Leaders’ Debates Commission. The Commission’s initial mandate will be to organize two leaders’ debates—one in each official language—for the 2019 federal general election. Expected to be fully in place by spring 2019, the Leaders’ Debates Commission will be led by a Commissioner, and supported by a seven-member Advisory Board.

The Minister also took the opportunity to announce the Government’s nominee for Canada’s first Debates Commissioner, the Right Honourable David Johnston.

Central to its oversight of the 2019 federal leaders’ debates, the Commission will work to ensure that the leaders’ debates are accessible to all Canadians on a variety of platforms.

Canadians recommended a phased, thoughtful, and independent approach to leaders’ debates. The creation of a Debates Commission was informed by a consultation process that included: online consultations with Canadians; a series of round tables with various specialists, broadcasters, academics and stakeholders across the country; and a study by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

The Commission’s mandate includes the preparation of a report to Parliament, following the 2019 debates, outlining findings, lessons learned, and recommendations to inform the potential creation of a more permanent Leaders’ Debates Commission going forward. 


“Leaders’ debates are a fundamental exercise in democracy. An independent commission will make the debates a more predictable, reliable and stable element of federal election campaigns. Canadians agree that a Debates Commission needs to be sustainable, non-partisan, independent, and established with the priorities and interests of Canadians in mind. Going forward, the Leaders’ Debates Commission will ensure that Canadians with disabilities, those living in rural and remote areas, and official language minority communities will have access to vital information about their choice of leader, party and platform.”

The Honourable Karina Gould, Minister of Democratic Institutions

Quick facts

  • The first televised federal party leaders’ debate took place in 1968.

  • The 1979 leaders’ debates attracted an audience of 7.5 million, nearly half of the English-speaking population.

  • Total viewership for both English and French debates in the 2015 election campaign was significantly lower than for the debates held in 2006, 2008 and 2011.

  • Minister Gould’s mandate letter from the Prime Minister directs her to “bring forward options to create an independent commissioner to organize political party leaders’ debates during future federal election campaigns, with a mandate to improve Canadians’ knowledge of the parties, their leaders, and their policy positions.”

  • Establishing an independent commissioner to organize political party leaders' debates will help ensure that the interests of Canadians are central to how leaders' debates are organized and broadcast.

  • Budget 2018 included $5.5 million over two years to support a new process that would ensure that federal leaders’ debates are organized in the public interest and improve Canadians’ knowledge of the parties, their leaders and their policy positions.

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For more information (media only), please contact:

Nicky Cayer
Press Secretary
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