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May 10, 2022 – Ottawa (Ontario)
Today Commissioner David Johnston releases the Leaders’ Debates Commission’s final report entitled Democracy matters: Making debates count for citizens.
The report, which provides an assessment of the Commission’s 2021 federal election experience, puts forward 11 recommendations for improving and ensuring leaders’ debates better serve the public interest. There are four new recommendations and seven reaffirmed recommendations from its previous 2019 report.
Following the 2021 leaders’ debates, the Commission consulted widely with stakeholders both here in Canada and abroad, holding debate symposia with experts in debate production, organization and polling, interviewing more than 40 stakeholders from the Canadian experience and receiving more than 1,100 submissions from Canadians. The Commission also worked with the Canadian Election Study (CES) at the University of Toronto to survey 2,000 Canadians on what makes successful debates. These consultations helped to shape the recommendations listed below.
Recommendations for the next leaders’ debates in Canada:
We recommend the continuation and improvement of a permanent publicly funded entity to organize leaders’ debates that is subject to periodic review.
Recommendation #1: The Commission should have final approval over the format and should work with stakeholders between elections to develop a simplified format that best serves Canadians.
Recommendation #2: The Commission should select the debate moderator(s) based on expert consultations.
Recommendation #3: The Commission should organize two publicly funded leaders’ debates (one in each official language) and have the ability, funding and authority to consider organizing additional leaders’ debates where feasible. It should also have the ability to provide advice and expertise to other debate organizers.
Recommendation #8: The Commission should maintain sufficient permanent capacity between elections to ensure it can organize debates at short notice and to cultivate relationships between elections to foster discussion, both in Canada and in other countries.
Recommendation #4: Participation criteria should be as objective as possible and made public before the election campaign begins. The criteria should be set by the Debates Commissioner.
Recommendation #5: Political parties should be encouraged rather than compelled to participate in leaders’ debates.
Recommendation #6: A competitive process should continue to be used to select the debates producer.
Recommendation #7: Debates should continue to be available in French, English and other languages, paying special attention to Canada’s Indigenous languages.
Recommendation #9: The Commission reaffirms it should be headed by a Debates Commissioner, whose appointment process involves consultation with the registered political parties represented in the House of Commons.
Recommendation #10: The Commission reaffirms it should ultimately be established through legislation (or similar mechanism) with a periodic review process, such as every five years, in order to prioritize greater continuity, transparency, and access to resources. Its institutional makeup should prioritize real and perceived operational independence, cost effectiveness, and administrative agility.
David Johnston, Commissioner of the Leaders’ Debates Commission, said:
“Informed elections that engage our citizens are more important than ever and debates can make a vital contribution to the democratic process because they provide an authentic record that citizens can trust. The report’s recommendations reflect our commitment to ensure debates best serve the public interest. To do so, the Commission should continue, but its mandate should be different and improved.”
Michel Cormier, Executive Director of the Leaders’ Debates Commission, added:
“We interpret the public interest in debates as responding to the needs of the viewing public, and extension, the voters. This means providing them with an opportunity to learn about the party platforms and helping them make an informed choice at the ballot box. The Commission’s 2021 report and its recommendations rest on this core principle.”
To view the Leaders’ Debates Commission 2021 report, click here.
Director of Communications
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