May Excluded from Leaders' Debate

By Harold Jansen on Sep 9, 2008

The big news on day one of the campaign was that Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party, would not be allowed to participate in the leaders' debates. It's easy to see why the other parties wouldn't want her to participate. The Conservatives are weak on environmental issues and they know it, so having a leader wel versed on those issues would only show up their weakness in that critical policy arena. The NDP didn't want her in because they're worried about bleeding votes that way. The only one who seemed willing to have her participate was Stephane Dion and the Liberals, who have developed an understanding with the Greens.

That said, I'm not sure it should have been as clear-cut as that for the other leaders. All eyes will be on Stephen Harper during the debate. The more other people that are on the stage, the more confused and diffuse the attack will be. Remember Jean Chretien during the 1997 and 2000 debates? He'd just sit back and listen with a smirk grin on his face. The Conservatives could have benefitted from having the others argue over who is the real opposition to them. As for the NDP, the Greens are a threat because they are fishing from the same pool of voters. Part of the Greens' mystique, however, is that people don't know much about their policies other than that they are pro-environment somehow. Having May in the debate would allow for a more detailed examination of their policies. Although getting to the debate would have been a huge coup for May, her exclusion can help to reinforce her image as being anti-establishment.

The larger question here, though, is why a consortium of broadcasters gets to determine the rules for inclusion and why the other party leaders get to choose who they debate with. This is a dangerous precedent. What next? Stephen Harper saying he won't come if the debate asks any questions on climate change? The reality is that the television debate is the central event of the campaign. Democracy is better served when there are many voices being heard. Over 660,000 people voted Green in 2006; if the polls are right, even more will do so this time. This was the wrong decision and one that doesn't serve the needs and interests of voters.

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