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Taxpayers paying millions for federal election debates

OTTAWA, ON: The federal government is sticking taxpayers with a bill for over $9 million to produce federal election debates, according to newly-released records obtained by the CTF.

“Why do taxpayers have to pay for debates that every news outlet in the country will cover anyway?” said Franco Terrazzano, Federal Director of the CTF. “Politicians will figure out a way to get their mugs in front of a camera, so taxpayers don’t need to be paying for it.”

The government-created Leaders Debate Commission was formed in 2018 to run the election debates with federal funding.

The private sector used to handle debate costs through a consortium of the major Canadian television networks at no cost to taxpayers.

The commission has now spent over $4.3 million of taxpayer’s money from 2018 to 2021 and plans to spend more than $4.4 million in 2021-2022.

Notable expenses include production costs, with the commission handing over $1.7 million to CBC to produce the 2019 debates, and another $2 million “committed” for the 2021-22 budget year.

The commission has also spent over $300,000 on lawyers while losing a pair of court battles. The commission is planning to spend another $400,000 on lawyers in 2021-22.

Conservative MP Corey Tochor questioned the value of the commission at committee in the past, and was not surprised to hear costs were going up. He also questioned the value for money the commission provided.

“People will remember the one disastrous debate [in 2021] where they had nine different MCs or commissioners on the stage,” said Tochor. “It was a gong show.”

He would prefer for debates to be taken care of by the private sector, as was done in the past. “I would be on the side that we wind this down,” said Tochor.

As for the millions paid to CBC, the commission said it gave the contract for debate production to a partnership of 10 news organizations, with CBC acting on behalf of the “consortium.” The CBC received $1.4 billion in federal grants last year.

“Taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for this when it’s clear businesses are capable of broadcasting the debates,” said Terrazzano. “The feds are already more than $1 trillion in debt and ending the government’s Debate Commission is a prime place for savings.”

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