Newspaper article The Canadian Press

No All-Party Consensus on Independent Election Debate Commissioner

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

No All-Party Consensus on Independent Election Debate Commissioner

Article excerpt

Tories oppose independent debate commissioner

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OTTAWA - There'll be no all-party consensus on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's promise to create an independent commissioner to organize televised leaders' debates during federal election campaigns.

Conservatives are flatly refusing to go along with the idea, which they say amounts to "de facto nationalization" of the debates, where the state decides how and when they're held and which leaders are invited to participate.

Moreover, they argue that having a government agency run the debates will trigger endless constitutional challenges from small parties whose leaders are excluded.

Small parties have gone to court in the past over their exclusion, but because the debates have always been run by private broadcasters through negotiations with political parties, they were not subject to a constitutional challenge.

The Conservatives' rejection of an independent debates commissioner is contained in a dissenting report of the Commons procedure and House affairs committee.

The majority report, supported by Liberals and New Democrats, recommends that the Liberal government proceed with Trudeau's 2015 election promise to create an independent commissioner -- and do it in time for the next election in 2019.

It recommends that the commissioner be required to organize at least two debates -- one French, one English -- during each campaign, following mandatory consultation with an advisory panel which it suggests could consist of broadcasters, representatives of other media organizations, academia and civil society groups, among others.

The majority report appears to anticipate attempts by the official Opposition to obstruct the creation and operation of an independent debates commissioner.

It recommends that the first commissioner be chosen by unanimous consent of all recognized parties in the House of Commons -- but if unanimity proves impossible, that the commissioner be named by the government following a recommendation from an arm's-length panel of non-partisan individuals such as a former judge, a former chief electoral officer and the head of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission. …

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