Good morning, Mr. Chair.
Allow me to thank the chair, along with the members of the committee, for the invitation to contribute to your work.
My name is François Cardinal; I'm chief editorialist and senior director of the debates section with the newspaper La Presse, in Montreal. I'm accompanied today by Yann Pineau, senior director of continuous improvement at La Presse.
At your request, we will be showing you our application. Although I will touch on La Presse's model, it will not be the focus of my remarks. If the committee would like more information, I would be happy to answer any questions the members have on the subject.
I'm here this morning in my capacity as a representative of the paper, but also as moderator of the French-language leaders' debate that took place before the municipal election in Montreal, last month, between Denis Coderre and Valerie Plante.
Please note that I will not formally be taking a position for or against the creation of the position of commissioner responsible for leaders' debates this morning. I'll instead try to respond to the question asked by the , in her opening remarks—“How can we reach the largest number of Canadians?” Therefore, I'll elaborate on three observations that, in my opinion, deserve being taken into consideration in the deliberations under way.
First, broadcasters are no longer the only ones on board.
Up to this point, television-broadcaster control over leaders' debates has been more or less total. But the media industry is undergoing a major transformation. What was valid five years ago is not necessarily valid today.
In her preliminary remarks, incidentally, drew up a list of the stakeholders concerned by future leaders' debates, referring to “the Canadian public, political parties, broadcasters”, but also to “new media organizations”. The minister is right to clarify things in this way, but it strikes me as important to add to that list the established print-media organizations—such as La Presse—that have strong footholds on digital platforms. Before you sits one such example.
We are, in our own way, a new media organization thanks to our tablet application La Presse+, the basis for the Toronto Star's Star Touch app, which you may be familiar with. But we're also an established mass-media outlet, one that, on a monthly basis, reaches no less than 40% of the adult population of Quebec.
At a time when Canadians are watching television less and less, when a great many are cutting off their access to cable, when they're turning in considerable numbers to mobile and digital platforms, it becomes essential to move away from an approach that revolves exclusively around broadcasters and to involve the major players in the written press, who today are broadcasters in their own fashion.
A sign of the times, parenthetically, is that La Presse was part of the media consortium in 2015 helping organize the leaders' debate. The reason for this was the indispensable nature of La Presse and the large numbers of people it reaches by way of its various platforms.
It needs to be pointed out that La Presse is confronted with the same serious revenue problems as all the other major newspapers in the country, and I am very glad to be here to make that point today. The income crisis is hitting hard everywhere, but thanks to our current digital shift, we are confident of continuing our momentum. And readership is very much there. It is important to draw a distinction when talking about the media crisis. We reach close to three million Canadians a month thanks to our three platforms. On a daily basis, that comes to more than 1.2 million people that we reach thanks to mobile, tablet, and web platforms.
This presence on the web, moreover, was highly useful during the Montreal election, last month, because not a single television network agreed to broadcast the only leaders' debate in French between Valerie Plante and Denis Coderre.
So, La Presse, like Le Devoir and the paper Métro, addressed this gap by broadcasting the debate live on the web.
It's therefore of paramount importance that the established mass-media organizations that are not official television broadcasters have a significant say in the management and organization of leaders' debates.
It's essential, to this end, to take into account their point of view and their technical needs, which are often different from those of broadcasters, during the organization of and preparations for leaders' debates. And we'll be happy, Yann and myself, to answer your questions on this topic following the presentation.
Second, the organization of the major debates must be depoliticized, and rules for participation must be clear.
If we're here this morning, that's in large part because the leader of a major federal party refused to take part in the English-language debate organized by the consortium in 2015. There was nothing exceptional about that, in a context where the organization of debates is done behind closed doors, according to the requirements and arrangements of the moment. That situation opens the door not just to random rules, but also to the decision of a leader or someone else not to participate.
What matters therefore is to have a transparent structure and clear rules that prevent candidates from taking themselves off for the slightest reason.
The leaders' debate in Montreal that I moderated is a good example. The incumbent mayor had no interest in numerous debates taking place. He therefore decided unilaterally that there would be only one, and even who would organize it. Broadcasters didn't care much for this sort of control, which contributed to the decision not to televise it. The result: as was the case with the English debate in the 2015 federal election, we had a wasted democratic opportunity. The debate was broadcast on the web only.
So it's important that organization of these debates not be entrusted to the political parties and to the arrangements of the moment, but also that it not be left in the hands of broadcasters alone, whose needs are not always the most favourable from the democratic point of view.
It's just as critical, furthermore, that the established rules be clear, predictable, and provided in advance.
Lastly, the multiplicity of platforms calls for a multiplicity of formats.
A number of stakeholders appearing before the committee are advocating the appointment of a commissioner whose mandate would be to supervise the two big leaders' debates. Some have gone further and proposed as well the appointment of a host broadcaster, like CPAC. I leave it to you to judge the relevance of these ideas. But if you find yourselves tempted by proposals tending towards a stronger oversight of the two big debates, it would be important to present those debates in different formats and at different times, while allowing for the possibility that media outlets organize other debates concurrently.
First, at a time of YouTube, podcasts, and videos on demand, it's more critical than ever to present the debates in their entirety, in delayed time, in places voters expect to find them, such as the websites of mainstream media outlets, including the print media.
It's important, in that light, that all media have unlimited access, with no restrictions whatsoever, to the complete version of the debate. Just as it's important that there be no restrictions on the use of excerpts from the debates.
La Presse has had some difficulties in the past gaining access to the raw material of a debate, without restriction, without a broadcaster logo, and with the possibility of disseminating as many excerpts as we would have liked.
So, in order for as many Canadians as possible to have access to the debates, it's crucial to offer a debate at the moment when voters want it, and above all, to offer them summaries and highlights. Many voters, it so happens, don't have two hours to devote to a leaders' debate, or are not available at a time convenient to broadcasters.
Moreover, there must certainly be a high point in the campaign in each of the languages, but media organizations present on the web and on digital platforms must also be permitted to organize their own events.
What immediately comes to mind are the debates organized by Maclean's and The Globe and Mail in 2015. I also think of the debates that La Presse organized alongside the 2012 provincial election with representatives of each party on the themes of young people and health.
Today, it's a lot less difficult to produce good television, or at least to use video properly. La Presse regularly demonstrates as much, and if the committee members so desire, Yann and I can present a recent example of the use of video on the La Presse+ tablet application. The video is about the Trudeau government's first hundred days in power.
In closing, Mr. Chair and committee members, please bear in mind that La Presse would be willing and eager to participate as part of any advisory committee, or any organization whose mandate would be to organize the next leaders' debates.
I have to add that this discussion demonstrates the democratic importance of mainstream media in Canada. This is an important precision at a time when an unprecedented crisis is hitting the print media, with a number of newspapers already extinct. At this rate, without government intervention to support the transition, the discussion that we're having this morning could well turn out to be futile in a not so distant future.
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, I hope that our participation in your work will prove to be useful.
My colleague Yann and I are available to answer any questions you might have.
Thank you for the invitation.
I have read the minutes of the previous public proceedings and the excellent presentations from the different witnesses, so I will try not to repeat their points.
I come to you as a representative of a digital-first media outlet. The Huffington Post—we recently rebranded as HuffPost—has never been weighed down by the often ponderous transition from broadcast or print because it has always been online only, but that doesn't make our commitment to inform and engage Canadians any different from that of so-called legacy media.
In fact, I would argue that we have built our success in a short time on a nimbleness and flexibility to adopt and adapt to technological developments, to online habits, and to users' increasingly nuanced and educated media consumption. There's a thirst for transparency and for a real reflection of what Canadians look and sound like. It's this lens that I apply to the organization and management of Canada's federal election debates.
Not counting 2015, they have largely remained unchanged. The broadcast consortium of big networks decides behind closed doors the who, what, when, and how. Don't get me wrong—they do a beautiful job of orchestrating high-quality live television production, but the result doesn't necessarily reflect the habits or the expectations of many voters.
By the next federal election, the biggest single bloc of eligible voters will be young Canadians who were born between 1980 and 2000, according to the polling firm Abacus Data. They don't live by appointment television. Most of them don't own televisions. These digital natives expect content to be delivered to them where they are, which is largely on their mobile phones. Some of them will watch live events, but even more will catch up through on-demand service later, perhaps when they are finished their non-9-to-5 contract job. My point is that the reasons for having a consortium controlling the details of a debate—such as a prime evening time slot—are no longer valid.
HuffPost, combined with its parent company brands such as Yahoo and Microsoft partnerships, reached 28.6 million unique visitors in October, making it the number two digital property in Canada, just behind Google's sites. That's according to comScore. In comparison, the combined digital reach of the top three broadcasters—Bell, CBC/Radio Canada, and Rogers—is 26.1 million.
It's time that the process is opened up to allow digital-first media entities to contribute, and also to widen the discussion and decision-making. Greater transparency and inclusion can only bring a greater evolution of the process—for example, how has the debate format or moderator been decided? I'm not saying that all the consultations need to be completely public, but there needs to be some transparency to it.
By the way, as far as I can tell, there has never been a moderator who is a person of colour, who's indigenous, or who has a disability. Is that part of the consortium's discussions?
An independent commissioner or commission could set some guidelines as to who gets a seat at the planning table. We still need the networks, but we also need entities that bring innovative and novel ideas to challenge what's been done before, and to deliver them on new platforms.
At HuffPost Canada, for example, we've used Facebook Live to directly connect users to the and to cabinet ministers in digital town halls, and more recently to the NDP leadership candidates in a debate. We were not trying to be a legacy broadcaster and reach as many people as possible with the broadest coverage possible; we target specific audiences and engage them where they are, when they want it, and how they want to be engaged.
If we want Canadians to be more engaged in the democratic process, we need a variety of voices in planning and broadcasting debates.
In 2015, the main broadcasters ended up wasting their time holding out to see if a political leader would change his mind about participating. An independent commission, supported by major political parties, would remove that influence and delay, and allow media providers to focus on the important details in bringing robust and engaging debates to the public with some degree of certainty.
Thank you. I look forward to your questions and discussion.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and distinguished members, for the invitation to speak before your committee today and participate in this discussion.
I am Bridget Coyne, senior public policy manager for Twitter, based in Washington, D.C., and I work closely with our Canadian office in Toronto with over 45 employees, including Jennifer Hollett, our head of news partnerships in Canada.
In my five years at Twitter, I have worked on nearly three dozen U.S. presidential, gubernatorial, and senate debates, and I have supported our leader debates and election coverage across the world. With the advent of open social platforms like Twitter, televised events, including political debates, have transformed from an isolated broadcast experience to a shared communal activity.
Before this committee, I will enumerate three main points for your consideration: first, how Twitter and politics are deeply intertwined and in the fabric of Canadian popular culture; next, how Twitter has historically been a part of political debates and the democratic process around the world and in Canada; and last, how Twitter may play a role in future leadership debates.
Politics and Twitter go hand in hand, especially in Canada, as evidenced by the popular culture and conversation we see on our service. People on Twitter often use a hashtag, written with the pound symbol, to index topics and bring together a diverse chorus of voices. In August 2017, we reported that #cdnpoli was the second most used hashtag of all time in Canada.
We've also hosted a number of major Canadian politicians at Twitter Canada headquarters in Toronto for Twitter Q and As and events. They include Justin Trudeau, Rona Ambrose, Jagmeet Singh, Navdeep Bains, and Melanie Joly.
Next, as it relates to debates, Twitter has a history of working with debate organizers and media partners to incorporate our platform and information into the democratic process for a more robust dialogue. As a service delivering public, real-time information, Twitter captures the roar of the crowd and reactions from outside the debate hall. Twitter can be a meaningful tool for determining who is performing well and what the audience is reacting to, based on public signals.
Here are a few of those Twitter data measurements that we have captured for political debates: What moments caused the most conversation on Twitter? What topics were the most talked about during the debate? Which candidates were the most talked about during the debate? Which candidate grew the most number of followers during the debate? What were the most retweeted tweets of the debates?
Twitter has also directly partnered with debate organizers to take our measurements and incorporate them into their broadcast, both during and after the debate. The broadcasters have editorial authority for how to incorporate this information. For example, in the 2015 federal election, we supported the Rogers Media debate, the Globe and Mail-Google debate, and Global News election night coverage, all to provide key Twitter data insights that enhance the public's understanding of the civic process.
Lastly, Twitter can be a meaningful method to drive participation in the electoral process, both for candidates and for voters. For candidates, Twitter can be a microphone to engage the public, to let voters learn more about them, and to permit participation by those not formally invited onto the debate stage. As some previous testimonies have cited, in 2015 Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada, tweeted her way into the debate, which drove 2.1 million impressions, a 2,000% increase from her daily average. For voters, Twitter can be a microphone for those not invited into the debate hall. To that end, we have worked with debate organizers to include questions from Twitter users.
When looking ahead for how Twitter may play a meaningful role in the future of leadership debates, there are three primary focus areas we ask you to consider.
First, we ask you to consider providing open access to viewing and following the debate through regularly live-streaming the event across both broadcast and social networks. Live-streaming video is a new format and one that we anticipate more news programs will adopt.
Two Canadian news programs began live streaming daily on Twitter in 2017: CBC's The National, and TVO's The Agenda with Steve Paikin. In 2017 alone we have worked with broadcasters to carry their debates and election coverage on Twitter in the U.K., France, Germany, South Korea, Japan, and the United States, in many cases drawing millions of viewers.
Second, we ask that you consider encouraging and incorporating audience questions and participation into the debate experience. This includes establishing a clear and consistent hashtag for the public to join the debate, identifying Twitter usernames on the stage and on air for the public to follow the candidates and to connect with them, and bringing public tweets and questions into the broadcast.
Third, we ask that you consider supplementing event coverage with Twitter data to further understand public opinion and bring voters into the civic process.
On behalf of Twitter, thank you again for the opportunity to present these ideas for how you might reform the political debate process and access to civic participation.
Just temporarily, Chair.
Thank you all for being here.
I have a couple of observations. I'm at least one generation, if not two, ahead of Mr. Nater, but I can tell you that the life he just described is my daughter. She's 25 and she doesn't have cable. She wouldn't dream of it. She doesn't do appointment TV, and she wants everything on her mobile. Exactly what you said is my daughter and her colleagues, to a T.
I also just note, as I thought it was interesting, that now all of a sudden anybody who's not digital is legacy media. Words matter. It's interesting.
That's an observation. I'll just leave that there.
I want to start, Chair, with Mr. Cardinal's remarks. I thought it was important that he said what he did. If I can repeat it in English, he said, “If we're here this morning, that's in large part because the leader of a major federal party refused to take part in the English-language debate organized by the consortium in 2015”, and that's the truth of it. That's what riled me up in terms of the debate's failure. Aside from my own partisanship, citizens were denied what they needed in an election by virtue of not having that major debate. Something's got to be done.
Having said that, I have an observation. It needs to be said. The major party that wouldn't show up was the Conservatives, and it's the same party that's even refusing to make a submission to this committee.
We need to understand that there's a pattern here. There's one particular party here that doesn't want these debates, because that fits their agenda. How many of their candidates in the last two federal elections wouldn't even go to local debates?
Now, we're not dealing with that, but it does speak to a strategy, and if you take a look—I'll just throw this out there—at what they did in their last piece of legislation, the “un” Fair Elections Act, and add it all up, it does not conclude to their being a leading participant in democratic elections and debates. That's my partisan part.
Mr. Cardinal, I've been a little disappointed in some of the major consortium players, the big media, because most of you have refused to take a position on whether it's a good idea to have a commission or not. I suppose I can maybe try to figure that out, but it's disappointing for me in trying to do my best in a non-partisan way when the biggest players are sitting back and saying they don't really want to comment on whether there should be this or that, but these are the things I'd like to see happen.
I pose to you, sir, that if we don't go down this road.... You seem to agree that the last occasion failed Canadians. If we don't go down the road to a commission, then what do we do to prevent failure and to ensure we don't have a repeat of that if we don't take some action?
If it's not this action, what action would you recommend?
Thank you. That's helpful.
That really is helpful, because we can link what you just said—that we'd like to see that kind of flexibility—to other important issues being raised by Mesdames Coyne and Lau in terms of who chooses the moderator and whether that reflects all of Canada, providing access to the digital after a broadcast, the timing of when it should happen, and real-time influence in debates. Those were just a few of the ideas I heard, but they can only be implemented if we have some kind of framework. I think I heard you saying the same thing, that we need something.
The only place I depart—and I'd be open to having people change me on this, because I seem to be marching a little differently than the army—is that everybody is talking about a sanction on a leader who does not attend. It seems to me that if we profile the debates well enough, in the way we should, the sanction is that you wouldn't dare not show up, because a price would be paid. With regard to the idea of imposing a sanction on a democratic leader in what they do or don't do, my initial reaction is to back off a bit. Let's set it up so that we can say, “I double-dog dare you not to go.” That's a little more open.
My sense—and we're getting close to giving instructions and stuff like that—is that we do need something. I can tell you that I'm listening to my colleagues over here, and we have a repeat coming down the line. Make no mistake: if we don't do something, we're going to be back where we were, guaranteed.
I want to make sure that while there's an openness to doing something now—and I'm looking at the majority government—we put in some kind of framework. I don't really care what we call it or where we put it, although I have some ideas based on the submissions, but it still seems to me that we, as a nation, need to have some kind of framework that guarantees that Canadians will have at least those two major focal points, which are two major national debates, in French and in English, if nothing else, and I would assume, listening to Mr. Nater, that there would be a whole lot of other things too. Those are all great.
However, the absence of that one big debate was a real failure on our part as a country to provide a democratic means for all of us to understand the issues and where the parties were.
I have to say that I'm heading into our next in camera session with a view that we need to do something. It needs to be light and it needs to be something that doesn't create a permanent bureaucracy and it needs to be nimble, but more than anything, it needs to take into account all the changes that are happening. The framework needs to provide for that kind of flexibility to happen, and then hopefully we can frame this up well enough. You'll do your job, and we'll do ours to promote what it's going to be when we finally get it.
Again, just leave it to the party leaders. Dare them to not show up and say to Canadians why that's their role in democracy and why they should be the prime minister when they won't even come to the debate.
If I have time, I'll give it to you.