Leaders' Debates

Leaders’ debates play an essential role in Canada’s federal elections. These debates engage Canadians in the electoral campaign and help inform their vote by providing a forum to compare prospective Prime Ministers, while enhancing their knowledge of political parties and their policy platforms.

Given the importance of the debates, the Prime Minister has directed the Minister of Democratic Institutions to bring forward options to establish an independent commissioner to organize political party leaders’ debates during future federal election campaigns.

To inform this work, the Government of Canada sought feedback from Canadians through:

  • an online consultation open to input from all Canadians; and
  • a series of roundtable discussions led by the Minister of Democratic Institutions, with participation from a cross-section of leaders from media, academia and public interest groups.

The Government of Canada also welcomed a study by the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, based on input from more than thirty witnesses.

Participants expressed the following general sentiments:

  • political party leaders’ debates are an essential contribution to the health of Canadian democracy;
  • there is broad support for and value in the creation of an independent commissioner that is guided by the public interest and that organizes debates in a manner that is fair, open, and transparent;
  • there is a need for clear parameters surrounding the leaders’ debates, such as format, content and participation; and
  • the distribution for leaders’ debates ought to be as broad as possible to maximize reach and accessibility for Canadians.

The three reports linked below detail feedback received through the previously mentioned consultations as well as findings and recommendations that will help inform the Government of Canada’s next steps.

Online Consultation

The Minister of Democratic Institutions launched an online consultation on political party leaders’ debates on January 11, 2017, which lasted until February 12, 2018. Canadians put forward over 400 comments, with an additional 14,000 emails submitted outside of the online consultation portal as the result of a form letter writing campaign.

Roundtable Discussions

In January 2018, the Minister of Democratic Institutions held a series of round table discussions across Canada, seeking advice and input from experts and stakeholders. To this end, the Privy Council Office collaborated with the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP) who moderated five events and prepared a report of the findings and recommendations. Events in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver followed a common agenda and included participants in the fields of academics, broadcast services, journalism, as well as stakeholder groups and individuals with experience with political parties.

Study by the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs

On November 21, 2017, the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs began a study regarding the creation of an independent commissioner responsible for leaders’ debates. The Committee heard testimony from the Hon. Karina Gould, Minister of Democratic Institutions, as well as from 33 witnesses over the course of eight meetings. The Committee also received written submissions from political parties and interested individuals. On March 19, 2018 the Committee presented its report to the House of Commons. 

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