Election debates must be “equitable,” but anyone can host them, says CRTC

The country’s broadcast regulator says it’s not going to stand in the way of changes to the way federal election debates are conducted, so long as all the major parties get equitable news coverage.

OTTAWA — The country’s broadcast regulator says it’s not going to stand in the way of changes to the way federal election debates are conducted, so long as all the major parties get equitable news coverage.

This comes after the Conservative party opened the door this week to competing offers from individual networks to host the debates.

The move effectively ends the monopoly over the political contests previously enjoyed by a broadcast consortium made up of CTV, the CBC and Global TV.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission says it doesn’t require any specific broadcaster to host a debate.

In fact, a CRTC policy adopted in 1995 says that electoral debates don’t even have to include all of the political party leaders.

In a statement released Tuesday, Conservative party spokesman Kory Teneycke said his party had accepted proposals from TVA and Maclean’s-Rogers to host two separate debates some time before the fixed election date of Oct. 19.

Then on Wednesday, Bloomberg News offered to host a debate, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau squaring off over economic issues.

Bloomberg said it would open the debate to simultaneous broadcast by all Canadian networks from a studio in Ottawa.

The Globe and Mail also reportedly offered to host a debate.

There’s nothing in the regulations stopping the parties from agreeing to such debates, CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said in an interview Friday.

However, the broadcasters could be held to account after the fact, should they be seen as giving one political party more air time, he said.

“Our role is not as direct as some people might think it is,” said Blais.

“What we would look at is whether Canadians are properly informed on matters of public interest, that an appropriate balance on important public issues occurs in the system globally.”

Under the CRTC’s 20-year-old policy, broadcasters do have to provide all rival parties equitable time if one party is offered either free access to the airwaves or paid advertising time.

Some political pundits have applauded the move away from consortium-hosted debates, saying the previous formats were too rigid and there weren’t enough debates.

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