The Leaders’ Debates Commission
On October 30, 2018, the Government of Canada announced that it will establish an independent commission to organize leaders’ debates.
The Leaders’ Debates Commission will make the debates a more predictable, reliable, and stable element of federal election campaigns.
Part of the Commission’s mandate is to advance the public interest by ensuring that the national debates are as accessible as possible, on a variety of platforms. The 2019 debates will encourage the use of new media, and reach to new audiences, including a mandate to ensure debates are available in accessible formats.
In making this announcement, the Minister of Democratic Institutions is fulfilling her mandate letter commitment to bring forward options to establish an independent commissioner to organize leaders’ debates during future federal election campaigns.
The core of the mandate of the Debates Commissionner is to organize two leaders’ debates for the 2019 federal general election—one in each official language. Other elements of the Commissionner’s mandate include:
- selecting and establishing a seven-member Advisory Board to the Commissioner:
- entering into contract for the production of the debates;
- providing, free of charge, the feed for the debates it organizes;
- engaging political parties to negotiate terms, and the media to ensure broad distribution;
- engaging with Canadians to raise awareness about debates;
- being the spokesperson of the Commission; and
- following the 2019 general election and no later than March 31, 2020, providing a report to Parliament outlining findings, lessons learned, and recommendations to inform the potential creation in statute of a “built to last” Debates Commission.
In the interest of time, and as a starting point for the upcoming 2019 debates, the Government has established clear criteria for participation by political party leaders. In 2019, debates would include leaders of political parties that meet two of the following three criteria:
- At the time the general election in question is called, the party is represented in the House of Commons by a Member of Parliament who was elected as a member of that party;
- The Debates Commissioner considers that the party intends to endorse candidates in at least 90% of electoral districts in the general election in question; and
- The party’s candidates for the most recent general election received at that election at least four percent of the number of valid votes cast or, based on the recent political context, public opinion polls and previous general election results, the Debates Commissioner considers that candidates endorsed by the party have a legitimate chance to be elected in the general election in question;
These participation criteria reflect the broad parameters already used by the broadcasting consortium for past elections. They are in keeping feedback from the consultation process. The Commissioner will be mandated to finalize and apply the use of these participation criteria for 2019, and will provide recommendations for future debates participation criteria in the Commission’s follow-up report.
The Debates’ Commissioner will execute their role in a manner that is neutral, fair, and principled. The Government has identified an eminent candidate whose impartiality is respected across the political spectrum, and by Canadians. The Government also sought an individual who has experience in broadcasting or journalism and in debate negotiations, is bilingual, and has experience building bridges throughout Canadian society.
The Advisory Board will be selected by the Debates Commissioner, in consideration of criteria outlined in the Commissioner’s mandate.
The Advisory Board will provide advice to further the Commission’s efforts to ensure that its debates are accessible to Canadians with disabilities, and reach those living in rural and remote communities.
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