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

12:50 p.m.

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

Allen Sutherland

In 1972, 1974, and 1980.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

In 1972, 1974, and 1980.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

When was the last federal election that was held without a televised leaders' debate in Canada?

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

It was in 1980.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

In 1980 there was no televised leaders' debate?

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

Correct.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Since then, there has always been one.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

A televised debate? In 2015 there was no English televised debate. There was no nationally broadcast debate in 2015.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

I seem to recall that there were several debates that took place that were televised.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

But they weren't broadcast by national broadcasters.

November 21st, 2017 / 12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

That's different from my recollection.

What I wanted to ask you about today was this. We've been able to successfully see debates organized in Canada for years. As far as I know, in all other democracies in the world that I'm aware of, they've been organized without government involvement.

It seems as though trying to involve the government in more and more things is typical of your government. Getting involved in pretty much every facet of Canadians' lives is the approach this government is taking, including the idea of debates in a federal election now, but government involvement always ends up meaning more money coming out of taxpayers' pockets in one way or the other.

I'm wondering if you've given any thought at this point to what the cost would be to taxpayers. I know you haven't fully developed your proposal, but you obviously have been giving some thought to this. You would have hopefully thought about the cost to taxpayers. Do you have any idea of what the cost would be to set something like this up, and what the cost would be to fund it annually?

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

Getting back to your original comment, in 2015 the key change was that there was no nationally televised English leaders' debate because of a decision of a political party leader not to participate, which precipitated a change in the formats. We saw a significant decrease in viewership, despite more types of debates going on.

What 2015 did demonstrate was that there was a very high public interest in ensuring that there were leaders' debates and in understanding how the process worked. I think that prior to 2015 and prior to the former prime minister making that decision, Canadians knew that there were going to be leaders' debates in English and French. Because of those actions, we have come to the point of saying that this is important for Canadians and that they do want to have this conversation.

With regard to funding—

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Fair enough. I don't mean to interrupt you, but I have only a certain amount of time.

I understand your point here, but the question is—

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

It's important to correct the record as well.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

—have you thought about what it would cost? What's the cost going to be for taxpayers to set something like this up?

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

That depends. One of the things that's important is recognizing that this is a public good and is part of our democratic process. Therefore, the question is, depending on the model, is there a need for public funding or not a need for public funding?

I think that if it's an individual commissioner, that could be the equivalent of a salary. If it's a commission, it could be the equivalent of several salaries for the year leading up to an election. If it is a greater conversation about saying that we are going to ask or mandate a specific broadcaster to develop this, maybe it's the cost of production. There are lots of questions, I think, with regard to what that is. I don't foresee it being an exorbitant cost. I think it's certainly within the means and within the realm of being viewed as a tangible public good that is being delivered.

For example, Spain's ministry of arts, education, and science, I believe, pays for their public leaders' debates, and then allows broadcasters to distribute them publicly across whatever channel they decide.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

What you're suggesting is that this commission might not necessarily be a commission at all. It might simply consist of the federal government providing production costs to someone to produce the debates. Is that what you're suggesting?

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

I think there has to be a commission or a commissioner regardless.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Then what model—

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

But there may be an additional fee associated with that.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

How would a model look that would enable there not to be a cost for a commission, then? You imply that there might be a model whereby there wouldn't be a cost for a commission, but only production costs.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

No, I said “in addition”.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

So there would be some costs.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

There would be a cost. I don't foresee it being a very big cost at all, but I definitely think it is valuable to Canadian democratic engagement.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Obviously I think there should be some consideration given to the cost, and it sounds as if that really hasn't been properly done at this point. I hope that will be done very soon and very quickly, because it does matter—