Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the committee for inviting me back here today. I am pleased to be here to discuss the main estimates of 2019-20 for the independent Leaders' Debates Commission.
I am grateful to be joined by Mr. Al Sutherland, Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet, Machinery of Government and Democratic Institutions, as well as Mr. Matthew Shea, Assistant Deputy Minister for Corporate Services.
During my February 19 appearance before this committee, I reiterated the essential role that leaders' debates play in Canada's democracy, and I emphasized that such debates should be organized in a manner that puts the public interest first.
The commission is exercising its independence and impartiality in executing its primary mandate, which is to organize two leaders debates, one in each official language, in advance of the 2019 general election, and in related spending. Through these estimates, the commission is requesting $4.6 million to organize these debates.
The commission, led by the Right Honourable David Johnston, has established a small secretariat made up of Michel Cormier, Executive Director, Stephen Wallace, Senior Advisor, and four other staff members.
On March 22, 2019, the members of its advisory board were announced, and on March 25 it held its first in-person meeting with the commissioner and the executive director. The board will provide advice to the commissioner on how to carry out its mandate. It is composed of seven individuals who reflect gender balance, Canada's diversity, and a broad swath of political affiliations and expertise.
The commission has established a web presence, and on April 4 it launched a request for interest related to debates production, which informed a full request for proposals that was issued earlier this week.
Additional costs are expected for the contracting of a production entity to produce and broadcast the debates, the ongoing operation of the advisory board, awareness raising and engagement of Canadians, and administrative costs.
As the members around the table will know, the commission has the independence to determine how best to spend the operating funds it has been allocated while remaining within the funding envelope.
In his recent appearance before this committee on May 2, 2019, the debates commissioner, the Right Honourable David Johnston, reiterated his intention and duty to use funding in a responsible manner. Furthermore, he emphasized that the funding being sought is an “up to” amount and that the commission will ensure it operates cost-effectively in all of its work.
Finally, the Order in Council setting the mandate of the commission is clear: the Leaders’ Debates Commission is to be guided by the pursuit of the public interest and by the principles of independence, impartiality and cost-effectiveness.
The commission provides a unique opportunity for Canadians to hear from those looking to lead the country, from reliable, impartial sources.
As we know, online disinformation is something we will all contend with leading up to the next election.
The leaders' debates become even more important this year as they provide a venue to communicate clear and reliable information that is accessible to everyone at the same time.
I am pleased to answer any questions members may have on this topic.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.