Leaders' Debates Commission

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Leaders' Debates Commission
Commission des débats des chefs
Agency overview
Formed2018 (2018)
JurisdictionFederal election debates
Agency executive
  • Vacant, Debates Commissioner
Parent agencyPrivy Council Office

The Leaders' Debates Commission is the independent Canadian government agency which is charged with organizing leaders' debates during federal elections in Canada. In 2018, the commission was established to organize two debates, one in English and one in French,[1] between the leaders of eligible political parties during the 2019 Canadian federal election.[2][3][4][5][6][7] Following the 2019 election, the Commission released a report to Parliament containing recommendations for future election debates, including that itself be charged with organizing future debates and tasked with determining the criteria for a leader to be invited to debates. The commission hosted further debates during the 2021 federal election.


Prior to the creation of the commission, Canadian leaders' debates were organized and held by a consortium of the main television networks.[8] In 2015, Stephen Harper, then leader of the Conservative Party, said he would not participate in debates organized by the consortium and instead participate in a series of independently organized debates.[9][10] While he later agreed to participate in a French language debate hosted by the consortium, no English language debate was hosted by the consortium due to the resulting uncertainty.[11] Other independently hosted debates occurred during the 2015 election campaign, but reached much smaller audiences than previous consortium debates.[10][12]


The commission is tasked with holding two official debates during the 2019 federal election. Following the election, it is also required to provide a report to Parliament on the leaders' debates and make recommendations for how future leaders debates should be conducted.[1][13][14]


The position of Debates’ Commissioner is currently vacant. Former Governor General David Johnston served as the Commissioner until he resigned in March 2023 to become the Special Rapporteur for Election Interference.[15] Journalist Michel Cormier serves as the commissions' executive director.[1][16]

The body also has a seven person advisory board. The current members are former Members of Parliament John Manley, Megan Leslie, and Deborah Grey, history professor Chad Gaffield, DMZ Executive Director Abdullah Snobar, judge Louise Otis and Aboriginal Peoples Television Network CEO Jean LaRose.[1][17] The first meeting of the advisory board took place on March 26, 2019.[18]

2019 debates[edit]

The English language debate took place on October 7 and the French on October 10.[19][20] Both debates took place at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec.[19][21]


Following the Commission's request for proposal, the Canadian Debate Production Partnership was selected to produce the debates. The CDPP consisted of a consortium of English- and French-language broadcasters and newspapers: CBC News/Radio-Canada, Global News, CTV News, the Toronto Star, HuffPost Canada/Quebec, La Presse, Le Devoir, and L'Actualité.[20][21]

The English debate was moderated by Rosemary Barton (CBC News), Susan Delacourt (Toronto Star), Dawna Friesen (Global News), Lisa LaFlamme (CTV News) and Althia Raj (HuffPost Canada), each responsible for a portion of the debate.[19] The French moderator was Patrice Roy (Ici Radio-Canada Télé), who was assisted by several journalists from prominent Quebec newspapers.[19]

Leaders invited[edit]

The government established rules in 2018 to determine which party leaders are invited to the official debates.[22][23] To be invited a party must satisfy two of the following:

  1. Have at least one member elected under the party's banner;
  2. Nominate candidates to run in at least 90% of all ridings; and
  3. Have captured at least 4% of the votes in the previous election or be considered by the commissioner to have a legitimate chance to win seats in the current election, based on public opinion polls.[22][23]

In November 2018, Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould said that Maxime Bernier would qualify for the debates as leader of the People's Party of Canada if the party nominated candidates in 90% of ridings.[7][20]

On August 12, 2019, the Commissioner extended invitations for Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer, Jagmeet Singh, Elizabeth May and Yves-François Blanchet to attend. He also sent a letter to Maxime Bernier indicating that he did not qualify for the debates at this time, and asking for additional information from the People's Party so that a final decision could be reached by September 16.[24] Bernier criticized the decision saying that it would not be a "real debate" without him.[25] On September 16, following submission of further information from the People's Party, the Commissioner determined that "more than one candidate endorsed by the party has a reasonable chance to be elected" and therefore Bernier would be invited to the debates.[26][27]

Content of debates[edit]

English debate: [28]

1. Affordability and economic insecurity

2. National and global leadership

3. Indigenous issues

4. Polarization human rights, and immigration

5. Environment and energy

French debate: [28]

1. The economy and finances

2. Environment and energy

3. Foreign policy and immigration

4. Ethics and governance

5. Service to citizens

On July 17, protesters gathered in cities across Canada calling for a leaders' debate to be held on the topic of climate change. The protests were directed at CBC News after organizers were told that broadcasters not the commission would determine the questions and topics of the debates. In response to the protests, the CBC released a statement saying that the commission and the editorial group at the broadcaster ultimately selected to host the debates would be responsible for making such determinations.[29][30][31][32][33] On August 8, 2019, organizers delivered a petition with 48,000 signatures to the CBC.[34]

2020 report[edit]

In June 2020, the Commission released its report reviewing the 2019 election debates and making recommendations for future debates.[35][36] The report recommended a permanent and publicly funded commission be tasked with organizing two debates every election. It also called for the head of the commission to be selected through consultation with all political parties, and for the commission, not the government to set the criteria for participation in future election debates.[35][36]

2021 debates[edit]

The English language debate in 2021 was criticized by former NDP strategist Robin Sears for its format. Sears alleged that participants were not given enough time to respond to each question and that reporters became stars of the debates rather than facilitating debate among the leaders.[37] The debate started off with a question from moderator Sachi Kurl of Angus Reid posed to Yves-François Blanchet which was called offensive for appearing to label Quebecers as racist.[38] This led to calls by political commentators for the Leaders' Debates Commission to be reformed and allow effective debate among the leaders.[37]

2022 report[edit]

In its May 2022 report, the commission recommended various improvements for future debates, and that it remain a permanent publicly funded entity to organize leaders' debates.[39][40]


  1. ^ a b c d Government of Canada (April 2019). "Leaders' Debates Commission". Retrieved July 9, 2019.
  2. ^ Berthiaume, Lee (September 19, 2018). "Feds plan to have leaders' debate organizer in place by 2019 election". CTV News. Retrieved July 9, 2019.
  3. ^ Kirkup, Kristy (November 6, 2018). "Liberal government hammered over process to create independent debate commission". CTV News. Retrieved July 9, 2019.
  4. ^ Bryden, Joan (May 3, 2019). "Leaders' election debates need to be more accessible, more civil, commission told". CTV News. Retrieved July 9, 2019.
  5. ^ Wright, Teresa (May 26, 2019). "Scheer Accuses Trudeau Of Creating Favourable Re-Election By Putting Unifor On Media Panel". HuffPost. Retrieved July 9, 2019.
  6. ^ Berthiaume, Lee (September 19, 2018). "Trudeau Liberals setting up new body to organize federal leaders' debates". Global News. Retrieved July 9, 2019.
  7. ^ a b Vigliotti, Marco (November 22, 2019). "Bernier can join leaders' debates if People's Party meets nomination threshold: Gould". iPolitics. Retrieved July 12, 2019.
  8. ^ Coyne, Andrew (November 2, 2018). "Liberals squander chance to turn election debates into something meaningful". National Post. Retrieved July 12, 2019.
  9. ^ Chase, Steven (May 14, 2015). "Broadcasters fight back against federal leaders' debate changes". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved July 12, 2019.
  10. ^ a b Berthiaume, Lee (September 19, 2018). "Liberals plan to have leaders' debate organizer in place by next election". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved July 9, 2019.
  11. ^ Payton, Laura (August 12, 2015). "Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau confirm participation in Munk Debates, 2nd French debate". CBC News. Retrieved August 12, 2015.
  12. ^ Payton, Laura (July 9, 2015). "Election debate dates set by broadcasters without Conservatives". CBC News. Retrieved August 6, 2015.
  13. ^ Grenier, Éric (October 30, 2018). "Ex-governor general David Johnston nominated as Canada's first debates commissioner". CBC News. Retrieved July 9, 2019.
  14. ^ Kirkup, Kristy (October 30, 2018). "Ottawa creating independent commission to organize leaders' debates". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved July 9, 2019.
  15. ^ "Prime Minister announces mandate of Independent Special Rapporteur". Office of the Prime Minister of Canada. March 21, 2023. Retrieved March 30, 2023.
  16. ^ Vigliotti, Marco (Feb 19, 2019). "Former journalist named executive director of new debates commission". iPolitics. Retrieved July 10, 2019.
  17. ^ Government of Canada (June 2021). "Leaders' Debates Commission". Retrieved September 11, 2021.
  18. ^ CBC (March 26, 2019). "Leaders' Debates Commission advisers meet". CBC News. Retrieved July 15, 2019.
  19. ^ a b c d CBC News (August 20, 2019). "CBC's Rosemary Barton to be among federal debate moderators". CBC News. Retrieved August 20, 2019.
  20. ^ a b c Lim, Jolson (July 31, 2019). "Proposed dates for federal election debates set for second week of October". iPolitics. Retrieved July 31, 2019.
  21. ^ a b CBC News (July 31, 2019). "English election debate hosted by new media group set for week of Oct. 7". CBC News. Retrieved July 31, 2019.
  22. ^ a b Government of Canada (October 29, 2018). "Order In Council 2018-1322". Retrieved July 12, 2019.
  23. ^ a b Bryden, Joan (May 3, 2019). "Federal Election 2019 Debates Need To Be More Civil And Educational For Voters, Commission Told". HuffPost. Retrieved July 12, 2019.
  24. ^ Tasker, John Paul (August 12, 2019). "Maxime Bernier excluded from initial invitations to leaders' election debates". CBC News. Retrieved August 12, 2019.
  25. ^ The Canadian Press (August 18, 2019). "Maxime Bernier argues he deserves place in leaders' debates". CBC News. Retrieved August 19, 2019.
  26. ^ Lilley, Brian (16 September 2019). "MAD MAX TO GET HIS SAY: Bernier invited to two leader debates".
  27. ^ Wherry, Aaron (September 16, 2019). "Maxime Bernier invited to participate in official commission debates". CBC News. Retrieved September 16, 2019.
  28. ^ a b "Official leaders' debates to cover 5 topics, include questions from Canadians". Global News. Retrieved 2019-10-07.
  29. ^ Silva, Steve (July 18, 2019). "Northern demonstrators demand CBC host federal leaders' debate on climate change". CBC News. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  30. ^ Kwan, Braela (July 18, 2019). "Youth Taking Action: Rallies across Canada Seek CBC Leaders' Debate on Climate". The Tyee. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  31. ^ Franson, Jason (July 18, 2019). "Younger voters mobilizing to make federal election about climate change". The Canadian Press. Retrieved July 18, 2019 – via CityNews.
  32. ^ Landreville, Troy (July 18, 2019). "Vancouver Island group calls on CBC to 'Change the Debate'". Comox Valley Now. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  33. ^ Radio-Canada (July 17, 2019). "Des jeunes réclament un débat des chefs sur le climat". Radio-Canada. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  34. ^ McIntosh, Emma (August 8, 2019). "Tens of thousands sign petition demanding CBC host climate debate". National Observer. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  35. ^ a b The Canadian Press (June 1, 2020). "Report on federal election leaders' debates suggests permanent commission". CBC News. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  36. ^ a b Johnston, David (Debates Commissioner) (June 1, 2020). "Democracy Matters, Debates Count: A report on the 2019 Leaders' Debates Commission and the future of debates in Canada". Leaders' Debates Commission. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  37. ^ a b "Robin Sears". Toronto Star. 12 September 2021.
  38. ^ Catharine Tunney (12 September 2021). "Trudeau, O'Toole call debate question on Quebec's secularism offensive, unfair". CBC News.
  39. ^ Government of Canada (May 10, 2022). "Leaders' Debates Commission releases its final report on the 2021 federal election experience". Retrieved March 24, 2023.
  40. ^ The Canadian Press (May 10, 2022). "Report finds 2021 federal election debates were clumsy and didn't help voters understand policy". CBC News. Retrieved March 24, 2023.

External links[edit]