Elections Canada wants no part in organizing leaders debates during campaigns

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OTTAWA — Canada’s independent elections watchdog wants no part in organizing leaders’ debates during federal elections.

Stephane Perrault, the acting chief electoral officer, says Elections Canada must stay above the political fray and should not be perceived as being involved in anything that could influence the outcome of a campaign.

Perreault says leaders’ debates can be pivotal moments in a campaign, often helping to define the ballot-box issues.

A House of Commons committee is examining the idea of appointing an independent commission or commissioner to organize leadership debates, as promised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the 2015 campaign.

Perrault says such a commission should be given broad latitude to shape the format of debates, but it should have little or no discretion to decide which party leaders are allowed to participate.

He says court challenges by smaller parties over their exclusion from debates in the past have failed because they were considered private, media-sponsored events not subject to scrutiny under the charter of rights; that would no longer be the case if a government-created commission was involved in organizing the debates.

The Canadian Press