Liberals plan to have leaders’ debate organizer in place by next election

Liberals plan to have leaders’ debate organizer in place by next election

OTTAWA — The Trudeau government has been quietly working on a new body to organize leaders’ debates in federal elections, which it plans to have up and running by next year’s vote.

And while a senior official says the Liberals will unveil specific details in the coming weeks, concerns are already being raised about whether the new entity will be truly independent and impartial.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised during the 2015 campaign, when the issue became a political football, to create an arm’s-length body to organize future leaders’ debates.

Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould emphasized the need for an impartial and independent debate commission or commissioner in a letter to a House of Commons’ committee this week.

“Formally establishing an independent commission to organize the debates could help ensure that the interests of Canadians, rather than private entities and political parties, are central to how leaders’ debates are organized and broadcast,” Gould wrote.

She went on to outline some of the government’s views on how such an independent body would operate, including that it should be guided by various high-minded principles such as “democratic citizenship, civic education and inclusion.”

The commission or commissioner should also ensure that “the decision they take reflects diversity in Canada,” she added, while working to ensure debates are as accessible as possible.

Yet Gould was decidedly vague on whether the body should be set up inside Elections Canada as well as the politically sensitive question of how and when it should establish — and publicly reveal — the criteria for deciding leaders’ participation.

The senior official, who did not have authorization to speak publicly, said the government has been working for some time and while some details are still being finalized, the intent is have the new entity ready for the October 2019 election.

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