News Release

Report calls for a new approach to organizing leaders’ debates

April 27, 2018 Print

Montreal – A new report by the Institute for Research on Public Policy proposes recommendations for creating an independent commission to manage leaders’ debates in federal election campaigns.

“As a core component of election campaigns, debates are important political exercises. The interest of voters must be kept at the centre of this reform, outweighing all other considerations. Any new process must be open and transparent,” says IRPP President and CEO Graham Fox.

In the aftermath of controversies surrounding the way the debates were managed during the 2015 general election, Canada’s Minister of Democratic Institutions was charged by the Prime Minister to bring forward options to create an independent commissioner to organize leaders’ debates during future federal election campaigns.

To help inform the recommendations that will be made to the Prime Minister, the report summarizes the main suggestions that emerged  from a series of roundtables held across Canada, organized by the Privy Council Office and facilitated by the IRPP in January 2018, seeking advice and input from experts and stakeholders regarding this critical part of the democratic process.

The recommendations include:

  • Create an independent body to oversee leaders’ debates.
  • Opt for a commission over an individual commissioner.
  • The independent commission should have, and be seen to have, broad support from political parties.
  • The commission should report to the public, not to the government.
  • It should be fully supported by public funds.
  • Its core mandate should be organizing a few key debates; it should not preclude other organizations from producing similar activities or events that would fall outside that mandate.
  • The commission’s process should seek input from the media and political parties, as well as academics, stakeholders and citizens — openly and transparently.
  • It should be the only decision making body regarding the participants, timing and format of debates.
  • It should be held to account for its performance after each election.
  • Beyond persuasion, the commission should not compel the participation of party leaders.
  • In contrast, it can consider making broadcast of the debates mandatory for some media outlets.
  • Media organizations should be given free access to the debate feeds, but must follow strict conditions to protect their integrity.
  • Accessibility issues related to geography, language and ability must be paramount.
  • The commission should be permanent.

The report concludes that the commission should be built to last, adaptable to changing voter preferences, party configurations, and ever-evolving societal circumstances. Some reforms could be implemented before the approaching federal election. However, given the leaders’ debates fundamental importance to the democratic process, it is crucial to get these changes right rather than get them soon.

Creating an Independent Commission for Federal Leaders’ Debates can be downloaded from the Institute’s website (

The Institute for Research on Public Policy is an independent, national, bilingual, not-for-profit organization based in Montreal. To receive updates from the IRPP, please subscribe to our e‑mail list.

Media contact:  Shirley Cardenas  tel. 514-594-6877

Creating an Independent Commission for Federal Leaders’ Debates

Creating an Independent Commission for Federal Leaders’ Debates

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Media Contact

Shirley Cardenas
Communications Coordinator
Tel. 514-594-6877 •