Evidence of meeting #80 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 debate.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Paul Adams  Associate Professor, School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University, As an Individual
Graham Fox  President and Chief Executive Officer, Institute for Research on Public Policy
Jane Hilderman  Executive Director, Samara
Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Andrew Lauzon

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Mr. Graham.

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

I would follow that last comment by saying, guarantee at least one debate in each language.

I really have no idea where I'm going to land on this. I really appreciate that you're all here with your opinions, because I hadn't thought of half the points you have brought up.

One of the concerns I have—and I think Mr. Nater brought it up with the minister—is there's a risk of de-emphasizing local candidates and local campaigns when we formalize a debate structure. I think we already have an ad hoc presidential system in our country which doesn't actually have a presidential system. In your opinion, does this make matters worse or does it not have any impact?

That question is for all of you. All my questions will be.

12:45 p.m.

Executive Director, Samara

Jane Hilderman

I'm very sympathetic to that point of view. Samara Canada obviously does exit interviews with departing members because we believe that individual members matter. I think we know for a fact that national debates among party leaders are already a feature, and we think they're a valuable feature. I think the sales piece comes from reminding voters that the local election happens both during the election and then while you're here at Parliament, to remind Canadians that they each have their own member of Parliament and that being involved in the public debate matters.

12:45 p.m.

Associate Professor, School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University, As an Individual

Paul Adams

I think many Canadians have shown that these are very important events in making their choices. What I'm arguing for is a continuation of that tradition in a more institutionalized way, because I'm afraid it stands on a rickety basis at the moment. I would hope that it would not in any way disparage political conversations at other levels and I don't see it would need to.

12:45 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Institute for Research on Public Policy

Graham Fox

I would have to agree. I think we're talking about providing more predictability and structure to something that occurs in any event. I think there is a way to make sure that it doesn't interfere with what happens at the local level.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

I want to build on some of the comments from both Mr. Reid and Mr. Christopherson regarding participation.

Mr. Christopherson mentioned the participation of the Chief Electoral Officer. I want to put a thought out to all of us to think about; it might be a Pandora's box, but that's what we do here.

If the CEO is involved, I think the baseline becomes: we have 15 registered parties; they all get equal play all the time, and the whole idea of thresholds is out the window, because the CEO has to be a neutral arbiter. As soon as the CEO says only parties with members can participate, then he is no longer a neutral arbiter from the perspective of elections management. That's a concern that I'm wondering if you agree or disagree with, or how you feel about it.

12:45 p.m.

Executive Director, Samara

Jane Hilderman

Yes, the Chief Electoral Officer recognizes that Elections Canada must serve all registered parties, but I think we also recognize the fact that not all parties are, in practice, equal. I go back to the broadcast piece: not all parties get the same amount of broadcast time. We have agreed, both in legislation and.... It is in some ways overseen in a way in the Canada Elections Act, and the Chief Electoral Officer has a role to say that we managed to find a balance. It's about striking that balance. As you move toward maybe formalizing debate structures, you're probably going to be subject to judicial review, that there will be a challenge in courts. Of course, we'll be testing that reasonableness. We have a long history in Canada of trying to be accommodating within reason. I think that can be struck here, but we may not get it right immediately.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

I'm from Quebec, so talking about reasonable accommodation is a whole other topic.

12:45 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

12:45 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Institute for Research on Public Policy

Graham Fox

In support of Jane's point, I would add that the more you get to a place where you have a basket of criteria that parties have to meet, you're not making decisions based on a specific party at a specific time. The more there is public support for that suite of boxes a party needs to tick to be able to access the leaders' debate, I think the less you get into personalities and specific circumstances.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

I think we have to avoid a lot of the specific things, like having seats. If you look at 1987 in New Brunswick, Frank McKenna won all the seats, so he would have had a really interesting debate in the next election.

12:45 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Institute for Research on Public Policy

Graham Fox

I think that's why there needs to be some common understanding of meeting a majority of those criteria, or two-thirds of those criteria. For parties that have regionally concentrated seats, if you require them to have candidates across the country and other things, that may not help either. Finding a way to say they have enough so there's a public case to be made might provide more of a grey area than we'd like, but I think it's the only way to go.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Fair enough.

On another slightly different topic, what besides the debate itself needs to be regulated? What about the use of clips or the availability of the full tapes after the fact? How can people access the debates after? How can the content of that be used? One thing we often see in debates is somebody says something, it gets taken out of context and put in an ad. How do you regulate that kind of thing as well?

12:50 p.m.

Associate Professor, School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University, As an Individual

Paul Adams

I think, as Mr. Reid referred to before, the debates have to become a kind of creative commons, and parties can use them, and news organizations can use them, and they do that within the rules and the mores of our system. I wouldn't go beyond that, but I think they should be generally available. They should not be restricted by the networks.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Thank you.

I will give my last minute or so to Ms. Tassi.

November 23rd, 2017 / 12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Filomena Tassi Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON

Thanks for being here today.

I have three questions. What I'm going to propose is, I'm going to ask three questions, and each of you answer whichever one you like. Don't feel compelled that, if one has been answered, you can't answer it. If you want to answer the same question, that would be great. It's my way of getting the best out of each of you.

The first is, each of you has mentioned putting people first and citizenry at the centre. How does the commissioner do that?

The second is, what roles do you see for networks and parties in this?

The third is, there has been some question of cost. Would you comment on the justification of the cost in setting up this plan?

12:50 p.m.

Associate Professor, School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University, As an Individual

Paul Adams

I think the costs of the debates can be borne mostly by the major networks. I think they have done that in the past, and I don't see any reason why that would change.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Filomena Tassi Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON

I mean the cost of setting up a commissioner and the salary of a commissioner.

12:50 p.m.

Associate Professor, School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University, As an Individual

Paul Adams

I'm sorry. Right.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Filomena Tassi Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON

[Inaudible—Editor] debates for people, how important this is, is this a cost the government should—

12:50 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Institute for Research on Public Policy

Graham Fox

I'm going to do a very quick answer to all three.

First, on what the people want, let's start with research. There's no empirical evidence that I know of where we've ever asked people what they expect out of the debates. I think we would be surprised by the answers, and that should inform the work of the commission, so I would strongly support that.

In terms of networks and parties and their role, I would say the role should be input but not decision.

In terms of public costs, I would say in the grand scheme, given how important these debates are, it's a small price to pay.

12:50 p.m.

Executive Director, Samara

Jane Hilderman

I have a similar note on the research point. We have very little in Canada, as I'm sure you may be encountering.

On the role for parties and broadcasters, I think there's still a significant one, because they are such critical players that they need to feel a sense of ownership so that they want these debates to happen. Maybe they should not make final decisions, but I think, for the most part, they have been able to negotiate agreement, and maybe having an external person to help enforce agreements or arbitrate those agreements would make sure that they are making smart decisions.

I think cost is a factor to be considered. Obviously, we need to invest in our democracy. I often think we get pretty good value for how little we spend on our democracy in Canada, but it's a recognition that, again, you shouldn't have to create a huge apparatus to serve what is a pretty narrow function during an election campaign.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you.

We will have our last questioner, Mr. Nater.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Again, thank you to our participants today. I enjoyed all the conversations.

I enjoyed Ms. Hilderman's comments about the MP exit interviews. As a grad student, I made extensive use of the transcripts, so I do appreciate Samara's work.

I also appreciated your comments in your opening statements about the other issues, about new technologies, about a digital world. I'm somewhat perplexed by Professor Adams' focus on the major broadcasters as almost a centrality, the comment that thou shalt have a major debate on the major networks.

Canadians are less and less turning to the major broadcasters. During the last campaign, CBC was running Coronation Street in place of the debates. Canadians aren't turning to the news outlets as their major source of information. Groups such as Abacus Data, for example, showed that more and more Canadians are turning to Facebook and to online sources. I think 51% of Canadians are now turning to digital sources.

For millennials, my generation, which will make up the largest voting bloc in the next election, somewhere around 12% to 20% turn to the TV news as their source for information. Facebook is their biggest outlook. Instead of saying thou shalt have a network debate, you could just as easily say thou shalt have a Facebook debate to appeal to the generation that will be making up the major voting bloc.

It is not that the networks don't play a role; absolutely they do, including CPAC. Mr. Fox, the IRPP report notes the role of CPAC. I think that's something that's very much worth considering.

I guess this is more of a comment, but I welcome your reflection on the role of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube as platforms for future debates, which would really address a segment of the population that is growing and is, truthfully, not as politically engaged as it ought to be, despite an uptick in the last election.

I'm not sure if anyone has a comment on that.

12:55 p.m.

Associate Professor, School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University, As an Individual

Paul Adams

I'll repeat, first of all, something I said earlier, which is that it is clear the networks and television will be less important over time. That shouldn't lead us to think they are not still the single most important source of news at election time, and that's where most of the eyeballs are.

I'm a pretty motivated viewer for these things but in the last election on a couple of occasions, I knew there was a debate on and I spent five or 10 minutes trying to find where, on my cable box, I could find that debate. Not everybody is as motivated as I am. I think when they're on the major networks, they're available and people know where they're going to find them.

I'm not trying to diminish the digital piece, which I think is important, and increasingly important, but for the moment I think that will happen to a degree, spontaneously.