Canadians want election debates taken away from media consortiums

After roundtables across the country, the Montreal outfit that helped examine how federal leaders' debates are organized is recommending that they be taken out of the hands of media consortiums.

The newly-elected Trudeau government asked for the consultations after voters watched debate-planning chaos erupt prior to the 2015 election.  

Institute for Research on Public Policy president Graham Fox says Canadians want an end to backroom bargaining, when broadcasters and political parties haggle behind closed doors over debate timing and format.  

Fox says roundtable participants made clear that a permanent, independent commission should be set up to organize the debates, with full transparency.

"It should decide on its own what the formats of debates would be and who gets to participate, and that needs to be done in full view of the public," he says.

Fox adds that Canadians want the independent commission to answer to them, the voters. 

"It should report to citizens through Parliament after every election," he says.

The roundtables concluded that politicians could not be compelled to participate in the election debates because their attendance would be a political decision.

However, roundtable participants believe Canada's public broadcaster could possibly be obliged to air the debates, with the feed made widely available to other outlets so that sessions in French and English could be viewed across the country, with special provisions for hearing-impaired Canadians. 

They recommended that the debate dates and formats be set several months before the start of an election campaign. 

The recommendations compiled by the IRPP now go to the Minister of Democratic Institutions, which is mandateded by the Prime Minister to propose debate reform in time for the next federal election.