By now, we should all be skeptical when the Liberals announce a new committee intended to be at “arms-length” from the government.
On October 30th, 2018 the Liberal Minister for Democratic Institutions, Karina Gould, revealed a federal plan to create a “Leaders’ Debate Commission” charged with organizing every aspect of the federal election debates.
Today, it’s becoming clear that the term “arms-length” just means within reach of Liberal meddling.
The intended goal of said commission? Well according to the federal government it’s to “make the debates a more predictable, reliable, and stable element of federal election campaigns.”
The underlying assumption here is that Canadians are somehow better serviced by “more predictable, reliable and stable” debates.
Perhaps the Liberal government is also intending for a more predictable result in October’s election, one in which they are guaranteed to win?
Up until now, no such commission has existed in Canada before. Past debates have gone along just fine and without any hiccups. In fact, most of the federal debates up until now have been rather boring, so why introduce a new commission?
To date, the Liberals intend on financing the said commission with $5.5 million dollars. Quite a hefty sum for organizing debates. And who will be on the receiving end of such a generous paycheque?
So far the Liberals have publicly identified two members of the commission: the commissioner himself, former Governor General of Canada, David Johnston, and a former CBC executive director, Michel Cormier. Quite the pair.
While the Liberals ensure us that the commission will be “independent”, members of the opposition disagree.
Conservative Critic of Democratic Institutions Stephanie Kusie called it another one of the governments “desperate attempts [to] rig the next election to the Liberals’ advantage.”
According to the commission’s mandate, the commissioner will be in charge of framing the rules for who gets involved in the leaders’ debates.
Currently there are three requirements: parties must have a good shot at winning, must be represented in the house of commons, and must have candidates in at least 90% of ridings.
For a new party like Maxime Bernier’s PPC, these regulations might spell trouble and see him sidelined from some of the nation’s most-watched debates.
According to their rules, the Reform Party would also not have met the Liberal criteria to be allowed to participate in the federal debates if the commission existed back then.
” I note that, under the criteria laid out here, the party that I joined in 1990, the Reform Party, would not have been eligible to have a participant in the leaders debates, since it didn’t meet all the criteria,” said the former Conservative Critic of Democratic Institutions, Scott Reid.
“It would not have met two of the three,” agreed Larry Bagnell, the Liberal chair of the Procedure and House Affairs Committee.
The commissioner is also charged with providing a report to parliament after the election on suggestions for how the commission might be a more permanent fixture in Canadian politics, ensuring that the stifling of political debate continues on well into the future.
Although one of the intended goals for the is to make the leaders’ debates more “open” for Canadians. In reality, it does just the opposite.
The Leaders’ Debates Commission is just another attempt for the Liberals to stack the election in their favour and control public opinion, by whatever means necessary.