Canada’s former chief electoral officer sees a new pre-campaigning style emerging thanks to Canada’s first fixed-date election this fall, with recent conflict over leaders’ debates just one consequence of the new system.
“The prime minister is the champ and his people are setting the rules. I think every Canadian should be concerned about that,” Jean-Pierre Kingsley, former head of Elections Canada, told host Evan Solomon in an interview on CBC Radio’s The House.
“What I’m watching right now is a champion boxer establishing the ground rules under which he will participate in another championship fight,” he added. “And we know that the champion has the upper hand.”
In the past, elections occurred at least once every five years, and campaign periods were at least 36 days in length, although some ran as long as 60 days. The limited campaign time frame and rules on spending and government advertising were important controls on politicians, said Kingsley, drawing a contrast to this year’s election, expected on Oct. 19.
“Candidates can only spend up to about $ 80,000. But if they’re allowed to start campaigning before the official start of the campaign now, then what they’re doing is spending more money. Who’s favoured by this? The people with more money.”
The result, in Kingsley’s opinion?
Election debates are another problem, Kingsley said.
Kingsley is calling for the establishing of an independent regulator — an elections debate commissioner — to act as a watchdog who would consult with the parties and work with traditional and emerging media to determine the number and nature of the debates.
“Really, what we’re begging for is the recognition that we’re going to have to put this in the hands of an independent person to make these very important decisions.”
“Let’s not confuse the way it’s been done in the past as being a formal process,” Teneycke said. “There’s maybe a tradition around it, but there’s no body in Canada in the past that looked at this.
“To try and characterize it, as some have, as abandoning some sort of legitimate process to the Wild West, I’m not sure that’s true.”
The Conservatives and NDP have agreed to an English-language debate hosted by Maclean’s/Rogers and a French debate hosted by TVA.
The Conservatives this week accepted invitations to two additional debates: one focusing on economic issues hosted by The Globe and Mail and Google and streamed online; and a debate on Canadian foreign policy to be held under the Munk Debates banner.
The NDP has signalled its willingness to attend these debates as well, while the Liberals have not made their intentions known. The Greens and the Bloc Québécois were not invited to those two debates.