The Pollcast: Debating leaders' election debates

How should federal leaders' debates during federal elections be organized? It's a complicated question. CBC's Aaron Wherry joins Pollcast host Éric Grenier to break it down.

Host Éric Grenier is joined by the CBC's Aaron Wherry

Only the French-language consortium debate featured all five of the major party leaders in the 2015 federal election campaign. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The CBC Pollcast, hosted by CBC poll analyst Éric Grenier, explores the world of electoral politics, political polls and the trends they reveal.

The Liberals are proposing to set up an independent commission to organize leaders' debates in future federal elections.

But it is a proposal that comes with many complications. Who would be on this commission? How would the debates be organized? And, the thorniest question of all, who would be invited to participate — and who would be left out?

In every federal election since 1984, leaders' debates of one kind or another have been held. Traditionally, a consortium of Canada's major broadcasters — including the CBC — have organized the events.

But in 2015, the decision of former prime minister Stephen Harper to reject the consortium and invite proposals from other outlets and organizations led to Tom Mulcair, then the leader of the New Democrats, saying he wouldn't participate in debates without Harper. 

The result was that five debates were held over the course of the campaign, including a French-language debate organized by the consortium, but they weren't broadcast to a wide audience. In total, the cumulative viewership of these five debates was lower than the single English-language consortium debate in 2011.

The government's proposal to institutionalize the debates, however, means the questions of when to hold them, how many to hold, where they would take place, who would pay for them, who would moderate them and which leaders would be invited to participate will have to be answered. And those questions — particularly the last one — don't come with easy answers.

To discuss the debate surrounding the debates, Pollcast host Éric Grenier is joined by the CBC's Aaron Wherry.

Listen to the full discussion above — or subscribe to the CBC Pollcast and listen to past episodes.​

Follow Éric Grenier and Aaron Wherry on Twitter.