Canada’s political leaders will debate issues of affordability and economic insecurity, environment and energy, Indigenous issues, leadership, and human rights and immigration when they meet Monday for the first of two official election debates.
The media organizations producing the two debates announced the topics and formats for the next week’s debates and said one goal is move the politicians off their scripted remarks.
“For us debates are a really important moment in our democracy,” said Jennifer McGuire, the general manager and editor in chief of CBC News.
“We’ve done our best to create a format and an experience that will give Canadians access to the politicians facing off against each other but also responding to questions in the moment and moving off prepared scripts,” she told a news conference in Ottawa Monday.
CBC News is part of the media partnership responsible for producing the debates and airing them online, radio and television. Other members of the group are the Toronto Star and the Torstar chain, Radio-Canada, Global News, CTV News, HuffPost Canada and HuffPost Québec, La Presse, Le Devoir and L’actualité.
The independent Leaders’ Debates Commission is overseeing the two debates and has invited six party leaders to take part — Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada.
The Star’s Susan Delacourt will join with Rosemary Barton, of CBC News, Dawna Friesen, of Global News, Lisa LaFlamme, of CTV News, and Althia Raj, of HuffPost Canada, to moderate the two-hour English debate, which comes two weeks ahead of the Oct. 21 election.
In that debate, the topics will be affordability and economic insecurity; environment and energy; Indigenous issues; leadership, in Canada and on the world stage; and polarization, human rights and immigration.
In the English debate, each of the five themed segments will start with a question on the topic from a citizen, drawn from among the 8,900 suggested questions sent in by Canadians. That will be followed by a question from a moderator, then a question from one leader to another and finally leader-on-leader debate.
There will be just over 20 minutes devoted to each segment and with six leaders taking part, media representatives conceded that the timing will be a challenge.
“We think it will work. Time will be tight. The point here is to make sure they all get their voice,” said Anton Koschany, executive producer of elections for CTV.
Bernier was a late addition to the lineup after the independent debates commission took time to consider whether he met the criteria to take part and his involvement, decided just two weeks ago, forced a rejig of the format and the set.
“Our job was to make sure they were all represented fairly in the debate,” McGuire said.
The questions and logistics are slightly different for the French debate scheduled for Oct. 10. That debate will cover economy and finances; environment and energy; foreign policy and immigration; identity, ethics and governance; and services to citizens.
The debates will be held at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que. in front of an audience.
The political parties were told the topics on Monday but won’t know until just a few days before the debates which order they will be discussed.
The debates will be available in English and French as well as Cantonese, Mandarin, Arabic, Punjabi, Italian and at least three Indigenous languages, including Plains Cree, Inuktitut and East Cree.
Following the news conference, party representatives held a lottery to decide logistics of the debates, such as podium positions and dressing rooms.
Scheer, Singh and May took part in a debate early in the election that Trudeau skipped. Four leaders — Trudeau, Scheer, Singh and Blanchet — will meet Wednesday for a debate in Montreal hosted by Quebec-based TV network TVA.