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PROC Committee Report

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Mr. Larry Bagnell
Chair, Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs
House of Commons
Ottawa ON K1A 0A6

Mr.  Chair: 

Pursuant to Standing Order 109 of the House of Commons, and on behalf of the Government of Canada, I am pleased to present the Government’s response to the Report (the Report) of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (the Committee) on the Creation of an Independent Commissioner responsible for Leaders’ Debates.  The Government would like to commend and thank the Committee for its work on this Report and to express our appreciation to all those who appeared before the Committee to share their perspectives. 

The Government of Canada recognizes that leaders’ debates play an essential role in Canada’s federal elections.  During the election period, leaders’ debates act as a vehicle for political leaders to present their ideas and policy positions in a respectful and open environment.  Debates provide a platform through which all Canadians can take part in the public discourse on issues of national importance.  Debates ensure that citizens are exposed to a diversity of political views, including positions that do not always align with their own.  Overall, debates help contribute to an engaged and well-informed citizenry, as well as a healthier, more vibrant democracy.  The Government of Canada strongly believes that debates among political leaders are a critical part of our election process and to Canadian democracy as a whole.

Given that debates are an important exercise in our democracy, formally establishing an independent commission to organize the debates could help ensure that the interests of Canadians, rather than private entities and political parties, are central to how leaders’ debates are organized and broadcast.  To this end, the Prime Minister has directed me to bring forward options to establish an independent commission 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 through a series of roundtable discussions, with participation from a broad   cross-section of leaders from media, academia and public interest groups.

The Committee’s study of this issue provided the Government with important insights into how a commission should be structured and what its mandate should be.  As elected officials, the Members of the Committee brought an important perspective to this issue.

The Government shares the Committee’s overall vision of a commission and supports the spirit of its recommendations. 

Creation of a Commission

The Government of Canada shares the Committee’s view that a new entity could be established to organize federal political party leaders’ debates for the 2019 election.  As outlined in the Report, guiding principles such as independence, impartiality, credibility, democratic citizenship, civic education, and inclusion would ensure a Commission is organizing leader’s debates that are in the public interest.  A Commission should be mandated to exercise its duties in an impartial and independent manner. 

The Government of Canada also shares the Committee’s view that the head of a Debates Commission should hold office based on good behaviour and that the decisions they take reflects diversity in Canada.

The Government of Canada agrees that the Commission should be required to report to the Minister and to the Committee following each general election.  This report should contain a thorough analysis of the Commission’s organization of election debates. 

The Government of Canada has taken into account the Committee’s recommendations concerning the localisation of the Commission within Elections Canada and the composition of the selection panel to appoint the head of the Commission.

Production and Broadcasting of Leaders’ Debates

With regards to the recommendation that participation criteria for the debates be set by the Commission and made public ahead of the campaign period, the Government supports that a Commission should consider participation criteria that are fair, in the public interest and contribute to a healthy democracy. 

Like the Committee, the Government recognizes the importance of making the Leader’s Debates broadcast accessible, available in a timely manner and ensuring that it reaches as many Canadians as possible.  To this end, we are also supportive of the recommendation that the broadcasting feed be made available to the greatest number of Canadians, including Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, people living in northern and remote communities, and those with limited media access (e.g. cable, Internet), while also preserving its integrity. 

The Government also believes that a Commission should undertake activities to inform Canadians about when the debates are occurring and how they were organized.  That is why the Commission could be mandated to engage in public education activities about the debates process.

As identified in Budget 2018, the Government is supportive of, and will work with Parliament on, the recommendations put forward in the Committee’s recent report on this important subject. 

The Government also shares the Committee’s concern regarding journalistic standards and intends to provide the necessary tools to a Debates Commission in order to organise leaders’ debates that maintain the highest journalistic standards. 

Lastly, the Government’s focus is to ensure that a Debates Commission would operate in the public interest by organising, conducting and distributing leaders’ debates during federal elections campaigns. 

On behalf of the Government of Canada, I thank the Committee for their work and look forward to their continued support in realising the common goal of an engaged and
well-informed citizenry, as well as a healthier, more vibrant democracy. 

Yours sincerely,

Honourable Karina Gould, P.C., M.P. 
Minister of Democratic Institutions