CANADIAN Leaders Debate CRITERIA

By Amir S. Ali

On October 30, 2018, Liberals fulfilled their promise to appoint “an independent commission to organize leaders’ debates and bring an end to partisan gamesmanship.” They selected former Governor General David Johnston as Debates Commissioner who after the government’s invitation he was delighted and said that he is “delighted and honoured.” For any country the acceptance of election results across the population is a healthy sign and such actions create positivity, however, opposition always find an opposite dimension.

The core of the mandate of the Debates Commissioner was to organize two leaders’ debates for the 2019 federal general election—one in each official language. Other elements of the Commissioner’s mandate included:

  • 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 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:

  1. 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;
  2.  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
  3. 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.

Stephanie Kusie, Conservative critic for democratic institutions, did react on the appointment and said, “This is silencing Canadians. This is saying to Canadians, ‘You do not have the right to decide the format you want, to hear from the potential leader of your nation.”

Similarly, in his reaction to the appointment, Nathan Cullen, the NDP critic for democratic reform, said, “This was meant to be straightforward. I’m confused why the Liberals again chose to unilaterally make decisions over how our democracy functions.”

On October 07, 2019, the first leaders debate took place and the main beneficiary of the commission was newly formed Peoples Party of Canada (PPC) leader Maxime Bernier.