Organizing an All-Candidates Debate

An all-candidates debate is one way to make sure that candidates in your riding must address issues on your campus and in the PSE sector.

Use this guide to help organize an all candidates debate on your campus. 

  1. Book a venue
  2. Contact candidates
  3. Assign a moderator
  4. Collect debate questions
  5. Debate format
  6. Additional volunteer roles at event
  7. Materials
  8. Follow-up

Book a venue 

  • Ideally choose an auditorium style space on campus that you are confident you can fill.
  • Use an online accessibility checklist to ensure that the space you are booking is accessible.
  • When booking the space, remember to include time for set-up and cleanup.
  • It is important to give candidates two choices of dates so tentatively reserve the venue for two nights.

Contact candidates 

  • Designate a Candidate Coordinator who will contact the candidates and serve as their point of contact from that first phone call to the night of the debate.
  • Call each candidate’s office and ask to speak to the Campaign Manager or Scheduling Assistant. Ask if the candidate would be available to participate in a debate on one of the two dates.
  • Follow-up this call with an emailed invitation that includes the date, time, location, and the format of the debate.
  • If not confirmed within three days, call the candidate’s office again.
  • If a candidate refuses or does not get back to you, but there is at least two candidates confirmed, go ahead with the debate. Some people put empty chairs on stage to highlight a candidate’s absence and have the moderator of the debate begin by explaining why the candidate is absent.

Assign a moderator 

The moderator will introduce the event, welcome and introduce candidates, ask for audience questions, and ensure that a respectful environment is maintained throughout the debate.

Collect debate questions 

  • Make a call for questions on the association’s social media accounts.
  • Brainstorm questions with your Organizing Committee.

Debate format 

  • Welcome and introduction.
    • The moderator welcomes attendees and candidates, as well as provides an overview of the format for the debate.
  • Candidate introductions.
    • Candidates are each given a set amount of time (2-3 minutes) to introduce themselves and their platforms.
  • Submitted questions.
    • The moderator will ask candidates pre-selected questions and each candidate will be given a set amount of time (1-2 minutes) to provide an answer.
  • Audience questions.
    • The moderator will ask for questions from the audience and each candidate will be given a set amount of time (1-2 minute) to provide an answer.
  • Candidate platforms.
    • Candidates will each be given a final opportunity to share any additional issues that matter to them (2-3 minutes).
  • Campaign and voter information.
    • The moderator will thank the candidates for participating in the debate and provide information on the campaign.

Additional volunteer roles at event 

  • A timekeeper will keep track of how long candidates are talking and notify them when they are running out of time.
  • Volunteers should be assigned to staff a voter registration table. This table could have iPads or laptops open to the Elections Canada website or print registration forms for attendees to complete. If using printed forms, it is recommended to also provide prepared envelopes with postage.
  • Volunteers should be assigned to set-up and cleanup.


  • Name cards for the moderator and candidates.
  • A campaign sign-up sheet to collect attendees contact information.
  • Chairs or podiums for the moderator and candidates.
  • A table for campaign materials and voter registration.
  • A yellow card to signify 30 seconds remaining and a red card to signify time’s up.


  • Send a thank you note to each candidate, thanking them for participating in the debate.
  • Send a thank you note to all the volunteers who helped organize and run the event.
  • Post pictures from event on the association’s social media.
  • Send an update on the event and candidates answers to members.