The Greens shouldn't have been in the debate anyway.

By Melanee Thomas on Sep 9, 2008

I can't help but find the hew and cry about Elizabeth May's exclusion from the leaders' debates amusing. For example, over 1500 comments have been posted on the original story on the CBC website, which is more than I've ever seen on any other story. The cynical side of me wonders if the same number of people actually watch the debate from start to finish. 

I've had a number of conversations with friends as to why they're disappointed May isn't included, and their reasons range from that one Member in Parliament (a former Liberal who only recently crossed over to the Greens) to sexism on the part of the other party leaders.

When presented with the idea that the one floor-crossing MP should be the magic word that gets the Greens in the debate, I'm reminded of the Bloc Quebecois. After all, Lucien Bouchard participated in the 1993 leaders' debate. Of course, at that point, the Bloc had a sizable caucus and had been sitting as that caucus for months. 

Preston Manning also participated in the leaders' debates in 1993, as Reform had elected their first MP in 1988. 

As for the sexist charge, while I am typically one of the first to call sexism in the political sphere when I see it, I don't really see it in this debate exclusion. Sure, May is a woman, and while the Conservatives are trying (and will likely fail miserably) to attract women voters, I suspect the exclusion is motivated by anything but May's gender. Instead, this feels more like power politics, and is about who has the power to grant access to it, and who's using that power to keep a new player out. 

It's worth remembering that Elizabeth May likes to play this power game. 

If the consortium's decision is about little else than access and power, then I must admit I think the network consortium should be chastised for deferring to the political parties already in the system so easily. Had a party leader said, "I won't participate if May's there," and the consortium said, "well, that's too bad. We're inviting her," I'm not sure the party leader who made the threat would dare not participate. He would unequivocally look like a child who didn't want to share the sandbox. If the media consortium had the guts to make such a decision, it would be much easier to call out the party leader(s) playing this game than it is now. 

I think it's also worth taking a critical look at how the networks are covering the parties as well. The CBC has a reporter following each party, meaning there's likely going to be a spot on the Conservatives, Liberals, NDP, Bloc and Greens in each election report the National does every night. CTV, on the other hand, does NOT have a reporter on the Green campaign (or at least they didn't on Sunday). Is this unfair? Absolutely, but you don't hear many calling out CTV for denying the Greens access, nor do you hear many praising the CBC for putting a reporter on the Green campaign. 

And while the discussions about the media and this decision are interesting, I think it's important to back up and ask ourselves if the Green Party has earned a place at the debate table. My view is unpopular: I don't think they do.

IF the Greens elect and MP, THEN their leader should be part of the debate during the next election.

If the Greens don't elect an MP but somehow manage to form a parliamentary caucus, their leader should be in the debate the next time around. This does NOT include convincing an ex-Liberal sitting as an Independent to switch to the party a mere moment before the election call. The Greens can try to spin this is akin to electing an MP or having a caucus prior to the election like the Bloc in 1993, but it is certainly not the same and they know it. May can say she does politics differently, but that move alone indicates she's as prepared to cynically use the system in a disengenuous manner as any other party leader.

I might be more inclined to play the "it's not fair to exclude the Greens" card for "democracy's sake" if the Greens vote share increased significantly over the past two elections. However, the Green total increased from 4.3% in 2004 to 4.5% in 2006. If Quebec is taken out of the mix, the Green Party vote share didn't increase in 2006 over 2004. This vote share makes the Greens marginal by any standard, and until they demonstrate they're more than a single-issue fringe party, I'm not going to get too whipped up about their leader's exclusion from a debate that few Canadians watch. 

There are more important and pressing inequalities and problems to address in our system, and I can't see how adding another talking head to a debate most Canadians avoid like the plague helps address those issues. Elizabeth May and the Green Party might do well to remember that.


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"However, the Green total

"However, the Green total increased from 4.3% in 2004 to 4.5% in 2006. If Quebec is taken out of the mix, the Green Party vote share didn't increase in 2006 over 2004. This vote share makes the Greens marginal by any standard"


Exactly. The Greens have never won a single seat and they probably never will without electoral reform. If May's going to be in the debate, then the leaders of the Marxist-Leninist Party and Natural Law Party should get invites too.

Good post ... but you're wrong

I agree with a lot of what you say here, Melanee. I agree that the "sexist" charge is a red herring and had little to do with it. I also agree with you that the consortium letting the other parties decide who gets to participate or not is ridiculous. What's missing are some clear rules over who should or should not participate. We've always assumed there were some rules and it's become abundantly clear that they are not. You seem to suggest that electing an MP under you own banner is the threshold? Why? We know under our electoral system that a party can earn a whole lot of votes and not elect anyone. The NDP could conceivably earn 17% of the vote and get shut out of seats. Should they be excluded?

It's also not just popular vote. The Greens are running almost a full slate of candidates (306 last I heard),which is something unlike any of the other parties. Also, the drop-off in vote totals between the Greens and the other parties is a steep one. The sixth place party was the Christian Heritage Party with 28,152 votes, well behind the 664,068 the Greens earned.

If we really want to make the debate work and have it focused, I'd suggest we quite pretending and have it just between Stephane Dion and Stephen Harper. None of the other leaders is going to be Prime Minister. If the consortium went that way, I'd understand the logic. But if you're going to open it up to Duceppe and Layton, May should be there.

May should be in ... but she wasn't out due to sexism

I agree with Harold that there should be some formal rules established about who should participate in the debates. Having a sitting MP is a bit dubious, but recognizing that the Green Party is growing in support and runs candidates in almost all, if not all, ridings demonstrates that some Canadians consider the party a viable one.

May was not excluded because she is a woman--the NDP has had two female leaders who participated in debates. I was quite disappointed that she trotted out that charge. I think the debate will be an opportunity for May, as the Green's leader, to showcase the platform and illustrate how they are a real alternative.

I'm not sure what Harper is afraid of--one might think he would welcome May with open arms as she is more likely to take votes from the Liberals and the NDP, which could mean more victories for the Tories. I hope she takes the opportunity to make Harper accountable on his government's environmental policies.

It will be interesting to see how she performs, but I wonder how many people, as Melanie suggested, will actually tune in. Canadian politics needs a shake up to get people fired up. More of us are looking south of the border for entertainment and inspiration.

Clarification: It's not really about the seat

I realise that my position about what the Greens would need to do to earn a spot in the debate is a bit unclear. Had they elected an MP or if they had a caucus that had been sitting in the House for a significant period of time (not sure what that would be, but it definitely would need to be more than a week), the Green leader would *have* to be included in the debate.

Currently, however, the Greens don't meet that criteria, nor have they demonstrated, at least in my mind, that they're serious enough players. I suppose it's a moot point now, but still .... I'm willing to bet $10 the Greens won't win a seat, and I'm not looking forward to the "but you let us in last time" chant during the next election campaign.

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