The Undemocratic Debates Commission
The Canadian federal election will take place on October 21, 2019, which is a little more than two months away. As we head into the major campaigning season for every Canadian political party, the span of time leading up to the election known as the official writ period, we should all be eagerly anticipating the Canadian leaders’ debates. The federal party leaders’ debates are an opportunity for each party leader to show off their party platform, as well as display the flaws in opposing parties. The English debate is set for October 7, with the French debate following on October 10.
Debates, in my opinion, are the most revealing and informative democratic activity for all the federal political parties. As a country that is proud of its democratic history, that is described as the “True North strong and free,” what would happen if we lost control of the way debates were carried out, such that they became biased and unfair? What if the party in government tyrannically took control of these debates?
Guess what? That just happened. For the first time in Canadian history, a debates commission has been established by the Liberal government to provide rules and regulations for a more “civil” debate. “In the interest of time, and as a starting point for the upcoming 2019 debates, the Government has established clear criteria for participation by political party leaders,” announced the Canadian government through their website. A document included on the government website explains a little bit about the debates commission and states two objectives for the commission:
- “Open and transparent organization of leaders’ debates in the public interest.”
- “Phased approach: 2019 experience to inform creation of a permanent entity post-2019.”
The goal for the debates commission looks good for the quality of the federal debates, the public interest, and Canada as a whole, but how does the government plan on achieving a good environment for the debate? The debates commission will try to permanently regulate federal debates, snatching undemocratic control over the method in which federal debates are carried out. Despite the pledge to serve as an “open and transparent organization… for the public interest,” the opposite is true. Let me explain.
The establishment of the debates commission was first announced by the Government of Canada on October 30, 2018, almost a full year before the election is scheduled to take place. On July 31, 2019, the CBC (jokingly referred to as the Communist Brainwashing Corporation, because it is very biased against pro-lifers and heavily taxpayer-funded), posted an article on their website explaining a bit about the debates commission and declaring the dates and rules by which party leaders would be allowed to participate in the debates. To participate in the leaders debates, federal party leaders must fulfill two of three arbitrary requirements. The debates commission dictated:
- At the time the general election in question is called, the party is represented in the House of Commons by a Member of Parliament who was elected as a member of that party;
- The Debates Commissioner considers that the party intends to endorse candidates in at least 90% of electoral districts in the general election in question; and
- The party’s candidates for the most recent general election received at that election at least four percent of the number of valid votes cast or, based on the recent political context, public opinion polls and previous general election results, the Debates Commissioner considers that candidates endorsed by the party have a legitimate chance to be elected in the general election in question.
These rules are the first set of regulations that do not reflect the creation of an open environment for all relevant party leaders to express their party platform and strut their stuff. The first requirement seems to be made for the purpose of excluding the up-and-coming People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier, who is open to the idea of free speech and freedom of opinion. Although he is an MP, Bernier was elected in 2015 under the Conservative Party of Canada. While Bernier might still be allowed to participate in the federal leaders’ debates by fulfilling the second and third requirements, that will depend upon the judgment of the Debates Commissioner, David Johnston, appointed by Justin Trudeau. Johnston has already sent Bernier a letter explaining why he hasn’t been invited to the debate.
In the five different 2015 Canadian federal leaders’ debates, the questions would be based around certain themes like the economy, climate, immigration, and foreign policy. The organization hosting the debate would be responsible for choosing the questions brought up in the debate. Sometimes the group would hold a survey for ordinary Canadians to submit what questions they want the federal party leaders to answer. In the past, independent mainstream media sources like Macleans and The Globe and Mail would have to pitch the prospect of a debate to the leaders to convince every leader to participate in the federal leaders’ debate. There was enough incentive to try and act in a non-partisan fashion, to be fair to each party leader and to pose hot button questions to the federal leaders. Now, the debates commission has made a list of the media companies that are a part of the Canadian Debate Production Partnership (CDPP) responsible for hosting the federal leaders’ debates and forming the questions posed to the party leaders. The CDPP includes:
- CBC News
- Global News
- CTV News
- The Toronto Star and the Torstar chain
- HuffPost Canada
- HuffPost Quebec
- La Presse
- Le Devoir
Many relevant Canadian media sources, particularly those that lean more to the right, are not included in the CDPP partnership and those that are don’t have a compelling motivation to be non-partisan. This is problematic as the CDPP is responsible for how the debate will be set up, where it will take place, what questions and themes will be presented to the party leaders, and how the debate will be distributed to the public.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau detests the possibility of confronting certain debate topics at a televised Canadian federal debate. Among the topics Trudeau might want to avoid are freedom of conscience for doctors who want to provide their patients palliative care instead of participating in euthanasia; freedom of thought and opinion; freedom of the press; government funding for the CBC; freedom of speech on university campuses; and the right to life, liberty, and security of the person that preborn children should possess. It seems unlikely that a Canadian federal leaders’ debate will address these issues thanks to the new, biased debates commission.