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The Leaders' Debates Commission is the independent Canadian government agency which was charged with organizing two debates, one in English and one in French, between the leaders of eligible political parties during the 2019 Canadian federal election. Following the 2019 election, the Commission released a report to Parliament containing recommendations for future election debates, including that itself be charged with organizing future debates and tasked with determining the criteria for a leader to be invited to debates.
Prior to the creation of the commission, Canadian leaders' debates were organized and held by a consortium of the main television networks. In 2015, Stephen Harper, then leader of the Conservative Party, said he would not participate in debates organized by the consortium and instead participate in a series of independently organized debates. While he later agreed to participate in a French language debate hosted by the consortium, no English language debate was hosted by the consortium due to the resulting uncertainty.Other independently hosted debates occurred during the 2015 election campaign, but reached much smaller audiences than previous consortium debates.
The commission is tasked with holding two official debates during the 2019 federal election. Following the election, it is also required to provide a report to Parliament on the leaders' debates and make recommendations for how future leaders debates should be conducted.
The government established rules in 2018 to determine which party leaders are invited to the official debates. To be invited a party must satisfy two of the following:
Have at least one member elected under the party's banner;
Nominate candidates to run in at least 90% of all ridings; and
Have captured at least 4% of the votes in the previous election or be considered by the commissioner to have a legitimate chance to win seats in the current election, based on public opinion polls.
On August 12, 2019, the Commissioner extended invitations for Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer, Jagmeet Singh, Elizabeth May and Yves-François Blanchet to attend. He also sent a letter to Maxime Bernier indicating that he did not qualify for the debates at this time, and asking for additional information from the People's Party so that a final decision could be reached by September 16. Bernier criticized the decision saying that it would not be a "real debate" without him. On September 16, following submission of further information from the People's Party, the Commissioner determined that "more than one candidate endorsed by the party has a reasonable chance to be elected" and therefore Bernier would be invited to the debates.
On July 17, protesters gathered in cities across Canada calling for a leaders' debate to be held on the topic of climate change. The protests were directed at CBC News after organizers were told that broadcasters not the commission would determine the questions and topics of the debates. In response to the protests, the CBC released a statement saying that the commission and the editorial group at the broadcaster ultimately selected to host the debates would be responsible for making such determinations. On August 8, 2019, organizers delivered a petition with 48,000 signatures to the CBC.
In June 2020, the Commission released its report reviewing the 2019 election debates and making recommendations for future debates. The report recommended a permanent and publicly funded commission be tasked with organizing two debates every election. It also called for the head of the commission to be selected through consultation with all political parties, and for the commission, not the government to set the criteria for participation in future election debates.