Evidence of meeting #81 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 debates.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Andrew Lauzon
Paul Wells  Senior Writer, Maclean's, As an Individual
Vincent Raynauld  Assistant Professor, Emerson College; Affiliate Professor, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, As an Individual
Thierry Giasson  Full Professor, Département de science politique, Université Laval, As an Individual
Alex Marland  Professor, Department of Political Science, Memorial University of Newfoundland, As an Individual
Maxwell A. Cameron  Professor, Department of Political Science, University of British Columbia, As an Individual

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

I'm going to try to share my time.

I'll make this very quick. I have an overall question for all our guests.

First of all, thank you for your time.

It seems to me that the proliferation of ways of accessing the latest debates in so many platforms now has basically turned a lot of these debates into single-issue debates as such. As Mr. Wells pointed out, the opportunity is there because the expense of putting this together has collapsed, to the point where anybody can do it. You can have a large studio in a major city with all the broadcast cameras, or you can do it through Facebook in some shed in rural Newfoundland, and it would be sort of the same thing—not that I'm opposed to that.

My question boils down to this, though. With regard to the commission or commissioner, I appreciate that the independence of such has to be tantamount. I get that. But in the process of doing their job, would you be more in favour of a commission or commissioner sanctioning one or two debates—both languages—on a larger scale, for all platforms to plug into, or should the commission or commissioner be in charge of allowing a proposal to come in on several types of debates on different platforms, maybe even a single issue one? In other words, it would be their sanction of this that gives it some credence.

Why don't we go in order of appearance. Mr. Wells.

1 p.m.

Senior Writer, Maclean's, As an Individual

Paul Wells

My strong preference is for a variety of leaders' debates in each campaign. We have to look at the real world. The more debates that are organized by an independent commissioner, the higher the likelihood that one or more leaders will decide not to show up for some and indeed to flout whatever sanctions might be levied against them. The fewer debates that are organized, the higher the likelihood that some cheeky news outlet like Maclean's is going to reach out to the party leaders anyway and say “Let's have our own debate.”

Unless a debate commissioner is going to forbid participation in non-sanctioned debates, then I say that sort of event, let's just have a debate, let's just talk.... Say, the Liberal leader and the NDP leader have a grudge against each other and The Globe and Mail or La Presse or the University of Toronto says “Let's just have a debate between the two of you.” I think the likelihood of that happening rises to a near certainty.

1 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

Monsieur Raynauld.

1 p.m.

Assistant Professor, Emerson College; Affiliate Professor, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, As an Individual

Vincent Raynauld

I think there are two ways to look at the issue. First of all, it's been proven that people pay less and less attention or the attention span as well is less, and less time is devoted to these types of exercises. On the one hand, obviously organizing a large number of debates would have an impact on the ability of people to see all these debates to be aware of what's happening. On the other hand, and I think that point was raised by some of my colleagues, it's important to flag this sort of fragmentation of the public and have everybody plug into one or two major debates to have people be aware of a broad spectrum of issues.

It's hard to provide you with a yes or no answer to your question, but I think a couple of components need to be kept in mind. I'm sure that my colleagues will be able to provide additional insights.

1 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

Professor Marland.

1 p.m.

Professor, Department of Political Science, Memorial University of Newfoundland, As an Individual

Dr. Alex Marland

The more debates you have, the less attention will be paid to the debates, because instead of focusing events that everybody is looking at, all of a sudden, another debate is occurring.

How do you reasonably control what's going on? I think what Mr. Wells said is absolutely right. You're just going to constantly have all this bickering occurring about what is and isn't sanctioned. I think the idea of a commissioner providing guidelines and best practices might be useful in many instances.

1 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

Monsieur Giasson.

1 p.m.

Full Professor, Département de science politique, Université Laval, As an Individual

Thierry Giasson

I do not think they are mutually exclusive. The commissioner, if that position is ever created, could be responsible for organizing two official debates among the main party leaders at the time of the election. That would not prevent media organizations from organizing other debates, after negotiating with the political parties.

We must ensure that at least two focal points in the campaign are organized in a transparent way in order to allow for a plurality of partisan views to be expressed. Citizens need that.

As I said earlier, thematic debates are fine, but once again I think it is important for citizens to have this opportunity for comparison and evaluation...

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Sorry, we're in a rush here.

Mr. Cameron, briefly, and then we'll go on to the next questioner.

1:05 p.m.

Prof. Maxwell A. Cameron

I believe that it's not an either-or question. I think there should be a hierarchy of debates. When Canadians vote, they vote because they care about issues. They care about their region, their city, their province, and they're interested in the leaders. It seems to me that it's appropriate to have a major debate among the people who want to be the prime minister and to have other debates within ridings or debates on specific issues.

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you.

Now we'll go to Mr. Schmale.

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

It's great to be back here with some old friends, and I do appreciate this conversation. It's very near and dear to my heart. I got here and heard the topic. I'm quite surprised at the fact that we were talking possibly about a commissioner, a tentacle of government, to oversee potential debates. I find this quite shocking.

Maybe I can get a quick comment, a yes or no answer from each of the panellists here. It's my understanding, based on testimony that the minister gave at a previous committee, that the minister would not commit to all-party support for this commission or commissioner or however you want to call it.

I'll start with Mr. Wells because I can see him.

1:05 p.m.

Senior Writer, Maclean's, As an Individual

Paul Wells

The question is, should the commissioner get all-party support?

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

That's correct.

1:05 p.m.

Senior Writer, Maclean's, As an Individual

Paul Wells

I view the commissioner as a rough equivalent to an officer of Parliament, and I think merely consulting would not be enough. I think there should be some level of consensus reached around.... You're nominating a person who would normally hold that office when the party currently in power is no longer in power. That sometimes happens in this country.

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

I don't know who's next.

Mr. Raynauld.

1:05 p.m.

Assistant Professor, Emerson College; Affiliate Professor, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, As an Individual

Vincent Raynauld

It's a tough question to answer, obviously. The key here is that the commission needs to remain independent, and oftentimes it's hard to achieve full support when you're independent.

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Mr. Cameron.

1:05 p.m.

Prof. Maxwell A. Cameron

Well, if the fundamental interest here is democracy and the public good, then no, I don't believe that any one party should have a veto over that. Of course I think it's critical that such a role, which would be, as Mr. Wells just said, like an officer of Parliament, command the broadest possible support, so I think it would be very important to try to find as much agreement across parties as possible.

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Monsieur Giasson.

1:05 p.m.

Full Professor, Département de science politique, Université Laval, As an Individual

Thierry Giasson

I agree with Mr. Cameron.

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

If you have a second, could I ask a question?

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Yes, sure.

November 28th, 2017 / 1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

I just want to ask this question. I think we're almost out of time. I'll direct it to Mr. Wells.

We try to make officers of Parliament independent of any individual party's interest by saying that they are answering to the House of Commons, which means, in practice, they are answering to the parties that are in the House of Commons. My experience here in the House of Commons, in watching over the past two decades, is that the parties represented in the House can want to freeze out other parties.

We saw an electoral law passed and then struck down by the Supreme Court, which would have limited funding for parties not yet represented in the House. I worry that the same thing could happen with exclusion of new or insurgent parties, as the Reform Party, of which I was once a member, once was. Is that not a danger with the commission model?

1:05 p.m.

Senior Writer, Maclean's, As an Individual

Paul Wells

It sure is. I'm not going to solve that conundrum for you. I'm glad this committee is taking some time to ponder questions like that.