To make an informed decision on who we want to represent us, we need to hear all voices, and not just the ones we like or think we might agree with.
By Simon Geoghegan
Published April 12, 2011
You have heard and read much by now in regards to the decision by the consortium of Canadian broadcasters to exclude Green Party leader, Elizabeth May, from the televised Leaders' Debates this week. Regardless of whether you support the Green Party or not, this decision is bad for Canada and highlights the shortcomings of our electoral system.
Although the consortium of broadcasters have published no official criteria for inclusion in the debates, the general assumption is that Greens are being shut out due to lack of representation in the House of Commons. (In 2008, there was a sitting Green MP, Blair Wilson, who had been kicked out of the Liberal Caucus, sat as an independent and then joined the Green Party just in time for the election.)
The thinking goes: If May is in the debate, how could they turn down the Communist Party, Pirate Party, Marijuana Party or any of the dozen or more 'fringe parties' that are registered in this election?
However, from an electoral perspective the Greens have much more in common with the four main parties in the House than any of the other registered parties.
The Green Party, like the other mainstream parties, is publicly funded. Any party that captures two percent of the vote nationally is eligible to have 50 percent of their expenses paid by Elections Canada, as well as a quarterly allowance.
The Green Party received 6.8 percent of the vote (just under a million votes) in 2008, and no seats. The next nearest party (excluding independents) in 2008 was the Christian Heritage Party, which received 0.2 percent of the vote (24,745 votes) and ran in under 50 ridings.
The Green Party runs candidates in all 308 ridings across the country. It is not a regional party, nor a party running on a single issue or narrow platform.
As a contrast to the Green Party numbers in '08, the Bloc received just more than 300,000 more votes. They only run candidates in Quebec. However, because of the vagaries of our First-Past-the-Post voting system, they captured 49 seats in the House of Commons and a seat at our national debates. These numbers should be taken more as an indicator of the shortcomings of our electoral system than as a signal to marginalize the Green Party.
So the Green Party looks and sounds like a national, mainstream, publicly-funded political party. Yet despite the outcry of many Canadians, including three former Prime Ministers and the CBC Ombudsman, the broadcasters continue to shut out Ms. May.
Unfortunately, we are all the losers in this game. Elections are the main way we all get to participate in our democratic system. To make an informed decision on who we want to represent us, we need to hear all voices, and not just the ones we like or think we might agree with.
An open exchange of ideas is how we move forward and develop new solutions and policies.
It is easy to vilify the consortium for this debate, but there is plenty of blame to go around on this issue. The leaders of the other parties have had an opportunity to stand up and demand that the Green Party be included.
In 2008, Stephen Harper and Jack Layton initially said they would not participate in a debate if May was invited. They quickly backed down when they saw the backlash.
This time around, the leaders are saying they would debate May if only she were invited, but it's not their decision. To say this is a weak and disingenuous response is an understatement. If even one leader made a strong stand and demanded that the Greens be included, other leaders would follow and the consortium would back down.
They are not only closing out a Green voice at the Leaders' Debate, but also denying us an opportunity to have a female voice participate in the national debate for the first time since Audrey McLaughlin stepped down as NDP leader over 15 years ago.
The Green Party looks like, behaves like and is funded like a national, mainstream party in Canada. It represents a growing movement in our country that captured almost a million votes in 2008. (And who knows how many more votes Green candidates would receive if not for strategic voting!)
The exclusion of the Green Party from the Leaders' Debates is not just a loss for the Green supporters, but for all Canadians. We lose an opportunity to hear their ideas, and see how they stand up against the other four parties and their leaders.
Let me close by sharing two ironies of this situation.
First, if the primary and only criteria for inclusion in the leaders' debates are a seat in the House of Commons, why not have Independents in the debate (there were two in the last session)?
Second, by excluding the Green Party, the Consortium of Broadcasters has insured that the Green Party has and will receive much more coverage in this election than they would otherwise.
The decision to exclude the Greens and the ensuing (and failed) legal challenge has been front page news and trending topics on Twitter. As is often the lesson, the more you resist something the more it will persist.
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