Evidence of meeting #79 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was political.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Allen Sutherland  Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet, Machinery of Government, Privy Council Office

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

Okay. Thank you, Mr. Reid.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Minister, as well. I appreciate your joining us.

You talked about five principles that go into your thinking on this. The first one was independence and impartiality.

We've talked a bit about whether the commission or commissioners would be statutory or ad hoc or at arm's length. Would you be willing to commit to this committee that any commission or commissioners who may be appointed would only be appointed if they have the consensus support of political parties recognized in the House?

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

I'd be curious to hear the feedback first.

It would definitely depend on what the model looked like as well, what kind of avenue we were going down, and what kinds of people we were looking for. In the United States, for example, the debates commission is a bipartisan organization.

There's the possibility to say that perhaps there should be representatives from each party on the commission. There could also be a suggestion that the people who are on it should not be affiliated with political parties and should maybe have more of a journalistic or academic or civil society background. I'd like to first hear from the committee as to what they think the most successful model would or could be, or what the parameters would be.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

You're not willing today to make that commitment, then.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

I'd like to hear about it and actually go through the study first.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Okay. I just find it interesting you're advocating impartiality and independence, but then not willing to make that commitment to a consensus approach.

Moving on, you talked about democratic citizenship, democratic civic education. My background is in political science. I spent time as a lecturer at King's University College and talked about issues such as this.

One of the misconceptions in Canadian politics is that you vote for the prime minister. You don't vote for the prime minister unless you live in one of the five ridings where a political party leader is running, yet establishing, as you're hoping to do, a process in which we establish a leaders' debate, the supremacy of the party leader, almost seems to go against the idea of civic education, of informing people that in fact there are 338 separate elections going on at the exact same time in each and every political riding.

I know I participated in somewhere between 11 and 13 all-candidates debates in my riding, constantly trying to focus on the fact that each member of Parliament is running individually, yet here we're establishing a leader-dominated process, a process that seems counterintuitive to what we're talking about in terms of civic education and democratic knowledge.

I think my time is up, but I'll leave that if you have time for a comment.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

Do I have time to respond?

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Go ahead, briefly.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

I think it's great that you mentioned that of course people vote for their local members of Parliament, but we also know one of the reasons there are higher turnouts in federal elections is that there is just more media attention. There are more people involved in talking about it on a day-to-day basis right across the country.

I think for Canadians—and I think many of you would agree, because you have probably spoken to constituents—that leaders' debates are pivotal moments for a lot of voters in making that decision. While you're absolutely correct that we have to do a better job at civic engagement right across the country—because I think we spend a lot of time talking about it abroad, and not necessarily here at home—I still think this is a very important exercise in the democratic process, particularly during elections, because it enables Canadians to have that connection and that ability to witness how their leaders may react in different situations.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you.

Before I go to the next speaker, I have a quick technical question following Mr. Reid's. Wouldn't a G and C initiative have to be provided for in a regulatory power of some legislation?

This is for either Mr. Sutherland or Ms. Gould.

November 21st, 2017 / 12:30 p.m.

Allen Sutherland Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet, Machinery of Government, Privy Council Office

I'm sorry. Are you referring to a Governor in Council or a grants and contributions initiative ?

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

I'm not sure what the minister was referring to when she said “G and C”.

12:35 p.m.

Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet, Machinery of Government, Privy Council Office

Allen Sutherland

I believe she was referring to a grants and contributions.... What she was looking to do was the establishment of an entity that would examine the issues—

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

I see.

12:35 p.m.

Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet, Machinery of Government, Privy Council Office

Allen Sutherland

—and come up with proposals.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

By giving them a grant?

12:35 p.m.

Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet, Machinery of Government, Privy Council Office

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Okay.

Go ahead, Mr. Garrison.

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I'm going to suggest that to facilitate the Green Party's schedule, we just flip the order and allow Ms. May to go first. I know she has another commitment.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Mr. Simms is also graciously giving his time up for Ms. May.

12:35 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

This is probably, Mr. Chair, the most gracious and generous group of humans around a committee table that I've every had the joy to encounter. I can't thank you enough.

I have been, as some of you will know, and as the minister knows, one of those leaders who has been through what I would call the leaders' debates wars. I've had the experience of meeting with the consortium. I do know that they did have rules, at least one of which they stated publicly, which was that you have to have one elected MP or at least one MP. Initially, the Bloc Québécois had members who had moved from other parties, and the Reform Party was in the national leaders' debate for the first time before Preston Manning had won his seat but when Deb Grey had, so there were rules.

I know I'm not here to give evidence. I'm grateful that the committee has called the Green Party, and the vice-president of the party will be here on Thursday to present.

I want to add a bit to the minister's answer on why the leaders' debates matter, and then ask some questions.

Only because of my involvement as leader of a much smaller party am I aware that the national media decisions around which parties get covered on a regular basis during the election hinges on that decision about inclusion in the debates. It's actually something that has been controlled by media. It's been very hard and opaque to understand the process, because the news media themselves can't cover themselves well.

Decisions about inclusion or non-inclusion have really large-scale implications for public information about parties. It's almost been as though the national news media have been able to say, “This is a real party, but this one isn't.” Even then, having won a seat, I just wanted to say something about your mentioning that 2015 was a departure from traditional practice. The Green Party was invited to participate in the national televised English-language and French-language debates, but when the prime minister said he wasn't going to appear in the debates, that's when things went quite sideways.

I had a few questions about how you see this moving ahead. I'm very grateful that the government is taking action to create some rules and to set up a commissioner. As you see the development of the rules going forward, how much do you see as an advantage that there will be some continuity of the traditional past practice of ensuring that you have at least one seat? Is that a reasonable criterion going forward?

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

I think that is a reasonable criterion going forward.

12:35 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

I don't know if you've looked at it, though I suspect you have, because I've mentioned it to you before. The Centre for the Study of Democracy at Queen's University, after the 2008 election, under the guidance of Tom Axworthy, did a fairly substantial study on leaders' debates and suggested something about focusing solely on the leaders.

We're a Westminster parliamentary democracy. None of us runs for prime minister. It's not an elected position. It's not like running for president in the U.S. We have a Westminster system through which we elect, in this case, 338 MPs, and under our Constitution it would be perfectly legal for us to get together after an election and decide which one of us should be prime minister. We only skip that step because of the extra constitutional process of political parties, which self-organize and choose a leader, which is why we don't have to figure out who the prime minister is after an election. We kind of know, unless it's a hung parliament.

Tom Axworthy's Centre for Democracy recommendations were to highlight the idea that we are, in fact, a Westminster parliamentary democracy. Leaders' debates are great, but we should also, potentially, have finance critics' debates and bring more MPs into the mix with national televised debates. I know this committee will do the work, but I wonder what you, as minister, think of that notion of more debates that are not solely for the various leaders.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

I think that's a really interesting point. It builds on what Mr. Nater was talking about, the fact that there could be different thematic debates with different party representatives who participate in them. That's where I think the point is. I would not want a commission or a commissioner to limit the amount of debate but to instead provide the criteria and the transparency for how debates are established and how they are broadcast.

I'm very open to that conversation. You and I have spoken about this before. One of the greatest disappointments in 2015 was the fact that there was no women's debate. That debate would have really added to the conversation. Kudos to the organization for creating a different format to ensure that those issues were dealt with; however, it wasn't something for which all of the leaders or even different party representatives were present. I do think we have an opportunity to create something innovative, something that will encourage greater participation in our democracy and greater awareness of different issues during an election.

12:40 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

I agree with you that it was one of the greatest disappointments of the 2015 election.