Behind the scenes of the Saskatchewan leaders' debate

While tonight's Saskatchewan leaders' debate might be less than one hour, it takes months of planning to pull it off.

Less than an hour long, but it takes months of planning to pull it off

Watch a timelapse of the Leaders' Debate setup

6 years ago
Duration 0:22
Watch a timelapse of the Leaders' Debate setup

While Cam Broten and Brad Wall may square off for less than an hour on Wednesday night, the leaders' debate has taken many weeks to plan and prepare. 

Here's a look at how it all comes together.

The broadcast pool partnership

CBC initiated talks between CTV and Global months ago to form a pool which would collectively produce the debate. 
Multiple meetings between news directors resulted in an editorial and technical plan for debate night, as well as a formal agreement on sharing the costs and live feed of the debate. 

It is the only time the normally competitive media outlets agree to share resources and editorial plans to this degree. 

The moderator and panel 

Because the pool partners are also competitors, it's traditional that the debate moderator not be a well-known personality for any one station. For that reason, the pool usually agrees on someone working outside of media. This year, that is former broadcaster Costa Maragos. 

Each media outlet gets one of their journalists on the panel that will ask questions and challenge the leaders. For CBC, that is political reporter Stefani Langenegger. 

Meeting the Parties 

Just like the media outlets have an agreement with each other, the pool also has an agreement with the parties. There are rules about just about everything to make sure no one leader gets preferential treatment. Everything from what time they arrive, where they stand, to which order they speak is agreed upon. 

The Saskatchewan Party's Kathy Young draws a card from CTV's news director, Dani Mario. (Chris Lane/CBC)
Those decisions are made by drawing cards during a meeting of the pool and representatives from both parties. It's not very high-tech, but it works and it's fair. 

Perhaps surprisingly, the party officials who are at political war with each other, are on friendly and first-name terms when they meet to finalize these details. 

The setup 

Most TV stations aren't normally set up to shoot a debate-style program on their normal newscast sets. At CBC, we've repurposed some unused space to create a new "debate studio." Notice how all of the branding and graphics have no colours or logos that could be associated with any one media outlet in the partnership. That's done on purpose and part of the pool agreement.
The leaders debate set has no specific media colours. (Jon Anderson/CBC)
Because it's a purpose-built studio, it needs a purpose-built control room too. This is what a pop-up TV control room looks like, set up in the room next door. Building this custom studio has taken weeks of planning and days of execution.
This pop-up TV control room is going to be used during the leaders debate. (Jon Anderson/CBC)

The program itself is built in a specific computer program that all TV stations use to organize and execute their daily news programs. 


The only thing not planned about the debate is how the leaders answer the questions. They have not seen the questions ahead of time, and they are only allowed notes at the podium. The rules state that there are no electronic aids or teleprompters allowed. 

Each leader gets opening and closing remarks and their answers to each question are timed. It's the moderator's job to keep everyone on time. To help, there's a massive countdown clock on the set that everyone can see. 

Reporters from all media organizations are invited. They will watch the debate from a special room set up just for them. It will include live TV and recordable audio feeds. They'll be able to speak to the party organizers, who also each have their own rooms during the debate. Once the debate is over, media will "scrum" each leader — again, in an order decided by drawing cards. 

You can follow the debate on television, radio or online from 6:05 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. CST

Live on CBC Television (check your TV service provider for channel).
Live on CBC Radio One (540 AM; 102.5 FM-Regina; 94.1 FM-Saskatoon)
Live-streaming online at CBC's Saskatchewan and Saskatoon websites.

No matter how you take it in, now you'll know a little more about how it all came together. 

By the numbers: 

Formal agreements signed: 2 (broadcast pool, party participation)
TV cameras needed: 6 
Broadcast partners: 3 
Days needed to build debate studio: 6
Last minute mixup on the floor graphic: 1 (fixed!) 
Pre-debate rehearsals for staff: 2
Commercial breaks cancelled: 5 
Questions to be asked: 12 


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?