Foyer Remarks for The Honourable Karina Gould Minister of Democratic Institutions


Speech by The Honourable Karina Gould

Minister of Democratic Institutions

House of Commons

October 30th, 2018

Good morning! Thank you for joining me today.

A healthy, robust democracy depends on an engaged and informed electorate. Nationally televised leaders’ debates play an essential role in Canada’s federal elections.

For party leaders, debates are a vehicle to present ideas and policy positions in a respectful and open environment. They are a stage to challenge opponents, speak out, question issues and connect with the voter.

For Canadians, they provide an occasion to compare and contrast, in real-time, positions, sincerity and character. A stage from which those seeking to become Prime Minister can elaborate, speak out and address the issues face to face.

Since 1984, every federal election has seen at least one organized debate, broadcast by traditional media to Canadians, who have gathered before their TVs to watch party leaders.  

Unfortunately, in 2015, that TV tradition was upended and resulted in a “Debate about the Leaders Debate”.  When one party was unable to come to an agreement with the consortium of broadcasters, a signature English language debate was cancelled. 

Canadians expressed concern over accessibility, over the process, delivery and relevance of what, historically, has been a pivotal prime-time event. They expect those that seek to lead them to engage them in their policies and priorities.

We listened and that’s why I am pleased today to announce the establishment of an Independent Debates Commission, in order to put in motion fair, open and transparent leaders’ debates during the 2019 federal election campaign. This independent non-partisan body will ensure that the interests of Canadians are central to how leaders’ debates are organized and broadcast.

There is broad support for the creation of a Debates Commission. The government consulted widely on how to create a debates commission, holding roundtables across the country with participation from across the broad span of Canadian society.

The government’s plan is broadly aligned with recommendations made by the Institute for Research on Public Policy made in its April Report. Parliament has also studied the issue. Our plan is also responsive to the recommendations made in the report of the Standing Committee on Procedure on House Affairs.

That report, together with our consultations and discussions, helped to provide a framework, guided by independence, impartiality, credibility, democratic citizenship, civic education and inclusion.

I would like to thank both IRPP and PROC for their contribution to this issue.

Mandated to act in an impartial and independent manner the emphasis will be on accessibility, in an effort to reach the greatest number of Canadians – whether it is Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, people living in northern and remote communities, minority language communities, or people with limited media access.

The Debates Commission will be headed by a Commissioner who will be the sole decision-maker accountable for delivering the 2019 debates. 

This Commissioner must be someone with integrity. Someone who commands respect. Someone with a thorough understanding and appreciation of the political process, the media and the people of Canada.

I am very pleased to announce the Right Honourable David Johnston as the government’s nominee for Canada’s first Debates Commissioner.

The Commissioner will be mandated to produce two signature debates, one in each official language.  This will include hiring a production company to produce the debates in accordance with high journalistic standards. This production feed will be made available, free of charge to those who wish to distribute it.

The Commissioner will be mandated to appoint a seven member advisory panel that incorporates varied skills and expertise. This could include academics, advocates for people with disabilities, and former journalists and politicians. He will also be supported by a secretariat of non-partisan public servants who provide similar services to independent Commissions of Inquiry.  

Following the election cycle, he has been mandated to provide a report to Parliament outlining findings, lessons learned and recommendations to inform the potential creation in statue of a “built to last” Debates Commission.  

This phased approach respects advice from stakeholders not to rush the process.

Canadians also asked for clarity and transparency in how debates are organised and who gets to participate.

As such, the Government has established clear criteria for participation in the debates. For example debates would include leaders of political parties that meet two of the following three criteria;

1)     Have a Member of Parliament, elected as a member of that party, in the House of Commons at the time the election is called;

2)     Intend to run candidates in at least 90 per cent of electoral districts; and

3)     Either obtained four per cent of the vote in a previous election, have a legitimate chance to win seats in the upcoming election.

These participation criteria reflect the broad parameters already used by the broadcasting consortium for past elections.  They also reflect feedback from the consultation process.

The commissioner will be mandated to finalise and apply the use of these participation criteria.

In 2015 many Canadians were not provided with the opportunity to hear from those seeking to be the next Prime Minister because the televised debates were not accessible to all. With the creation of the Leaders’ Debates Commission the Government of Canada is ensuring that leaders’ debates remain a predictable, reliable and a stable element of future election campaigns.  

Thank you. Merci.

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