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Michelle Rogers has some modest proposals for improving leaders' debates

dylan c. robertson

The debate happens tonight. Canadians across the country will be gathered in pubs and nestled over Twitter — is the hashtag #db8 or #db841? — to watch the leaders duke it out.

This year’s debate will include a new format, with six-minute one-on-one debates, followed by a 12-minute round for all four leaders.

There’s been much ado over the decision to exclude Elizabeth May from the debate. Debate reform has since taken over our country’s editorial pages. The inconsistency of including May in 2008 but shutting her out this time has angered people even beyond the Greens’ voter base. There just doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to how the Canadian debates are structured or who participates. But there has been some serious study of the debates, and some recommendations worth reading.

During her time at as a research assistant at Queen’s University’s Centre for the Study of Democracy, Michelle Rogers authored a 60-page report on the Canadian federal election debates.

It’s well worth a read. The study, also embedded below, examines the history of TV debates, compares policies worldwide and tackles the tough questions of ensuring debates that are both democratic and realistic. It details the Lortie Commission (an ill-fated attempt to solve these question 20 years ago) and dives into questions like if the Bloc should be included in English-language debates.

Rogers comes up with some interesting recommendations, though you may not like them all. A sampling:

  • Televised leaders debates should be entrenched in both the Canada Elections Act and Broadcasting Act.
  • Federal party funding for election campaigns should be contingent upon full participation in leaders debates.
  • Party inclusion criteria should be three of these four: 5 percent support in national polls; a sitting MP; a full roster of candidates across the nation; and federal funding.
  • A series of debates should take place on national and regional themes, broadcast on local channels.
  • There should be two debates in the final weeks of the campaign: one with all qualifying party leaders, the other featuring the Prime Minister and the party leader from the highest polling opposition party.
  • The use of social networking platforms should be exploited to broaden the reach and appeal of election debates.

Whether you agree with her recommendations or not, Roger’s report makes for an interesting read and may help you reach an informed opinion on what’s become a key part of our elections.

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