The debate on the televised debates of the leaders can resume

Photo: Ryan Remiorz, The canadian Press
Stephen Harper, Gilles Duceppe, Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau during one of the debates in the last federal election.

The next federal election will take place in 21 months, but Canadians will be invited shortly to submit their views about the organization… of the leaders ‘ debates. When it comes to making a campaign promise of Justin Trudeau, even if it already seems to have the lead in the wing.


In 2015, a debate on the debates that had raged in the country. The conservative opposition leader Stephen Harper had announced that it would not participate in debates traditional organized by the consortium of television broadcasters. The chief néodémocrate Thomas Mulcair had put his grain of salt in threatening not to participate to the battles in which Mr. Harper would be present, and then making his presence conditional on the holding of so many debates in English than in French.


In the end, one of the election campaigns, the longest history will have been punctuated by five clashes with variable geometry : that of Maclean’s magazine has made it to four, without Gilles Duceppe, those of the daily newspaper, The Globe and Mail and the institute Munk, were held to three, without Elizabeth May, the duels of VAT, were held to four, without Ms. May. Only the debate of a consortium of broadcasters in French, to which Mr. Harper has finally agreed to participate, brought together the five heads.


In 2015, the liberals have promised to put “an end to the maneuvers partisan in entrusting the organisation of the leaders’ debates to an independent commission “, but they have not explained who consist of this commission or what would be the scope of its mandate. As the minister responsible for democratic Institutions, Karina Gould, will-t-she in January and February, a cross-country tour to gather opinions from experts. It will also launch an online citizen consultation.


Already, the belief of the government seems to be in decline. “I wonder, among other things, whether we should not establish something informal and temporary in order to see a little bit how it would work before moving to a legislative measure that might sink some elements in the concrete,” said the minister Gould in front of a parliamentary committee which has undertaken at the end of November a study of his thought on the subject. Behind the scenes, we admit that everything is on the table, as much a law as a simple consensus between all the parties or a vote in the House of commons.


The committee has invited the major political parties to submit a memory. The conservative Party has refused. “The great party that is the parade [at the election], it was the conservative, and again, it is he who refuses even its brief to our committee, lamented the néodémocrate David Christopherson. It is necessary to see automatism, repetition. Here we have a party that wants to avoid these debates because it’s his business. “


The green Party is the only one to have proposed concrete ideas. It suggests that, to invite its leader to a debate, a party satisfies two of the following three criteria : collect 4 % of popular support, have at least one member of Parliament, to present candidates across the country. The green Party proposes to punish the parties snobant a national debate by detaching it from 20 % reimbursement of election expenses to which he is entitled.


Differing opinions


The parliamentary committee has also received the opinion of Radio-Canada, CTV, CPAC, Corus (Global News), The Press, Maclean’s, HuffPost, Twitter and Facebook. There are differences of opinion about the direction to take.


The Press, Twitter, HuffPost, and Maclean’s have invited the parliamentarians to take note of the transformation of the media landscape and to do more to consider the broadcasters as the only ones able to reach a wide audience.


“It is time to open the process to allow entities media first digital to contribute to the discussion and decision-making, and to broaden the scope,” said Andree Lau, the editor-in-chief of the HuffPost. Twitter and The Press have advocated for free access to the debate for broadcast. (Radio-Canada argues that the production of the 2011 debate cost him 250 000 $, not to mention the loss of advertising revenue.)


On the other side, Radio-Canada, CTV and Global News were keen to recall that the consortium of broadcasters of which they are part is born of a need : not to multiply the requests of debates to the political parties which are in general not very fond of.


“In the case of the consortium, it is simply an ad hoc arrangement between various media to work together in the public interest,” said Troy Reeb. He is subtly made to understand that, when the media engage in a higher bid, this can lead to compromising consequences. “We do not, however, engage in battles with the other networks to know who would win this year or next year. This would relaunch the process of back-and-forth with the parties to try to get their favor, and nobody wants to go to this. “


The conservative mp John Nater has accused the major networks don’t have broadcast the three debates in English. They all replied that they were broadcasting only what they could vouch. Mr. Nater is then washed away, accusing them of putting in doubt the credibility of these media outlets.


“What I will affirm in the name of CBC/Radio-Canada, has responded to Jennifer McGuire, is that we know the nature of the discussions that have taken place in the negotiations with a view to holding a debate. We know that they involved to choose those who will be allowed to participate in the debate. We know that they also wore on the format, the places, the dates, the themes of the debate. For us, the fact not to participate in these discussions is a problem for which is to provide the implementation in waves. “


Obligations and sanctions ?


No media has accepted from the outset, a possible obligation of broadcasting the leaders ‘ debate. Troy Reeb, Corus, has flatly rejected. “Why not direct that the debate be broadcast on TSN, on Food Network, on the myriad of other stations, or even on Netflix, YouTube, or Facebook ? Where does this lead ? […] I think we would be very resistant to a measure of this kind. “


All have indicated that, if a commission of the discussions was to be introduced, the choice of topics covered and the issues raised should continue to be done by the journalists, so that the whole remains an ” exercise of journalism “.


The increasing number of debates in 2015 has led to a decrease in audience ratings. According to minister Gould, “the debates of 2006, 2008 and 2011 attracted, on average, more than three million viewers” each. In 2015, 1.5 million people have watched one of Maclean’s, almost a million of VAT, 780 000 that of the Globe and Mail, 490 000 that of Munk and 290 000 those of the consortium in French.