An Open Letter to Jack Layton

(Update: Thursday, 9:50 a.m.): Layton and Harper have dropped their opposition to May’s participation on the debates. More here._

Dear Sir,

It may be possible that you might remember me, or at least my family. I have had the privilege of having you as my municipal politician for much of my life, as I lived in the Trinity-Spadina ward that you represented on Toronto City Council so well. I have had a lot more respect for your accomplishments than others more partisan than myself, not only for your work as city and metro councillor, but also as president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and as leader of the New Democratic Party.

Consider for a moment where you stand: you, sir, have restored party fortunes to levels not seen since Ed Broadbent was in charge, and whether others like to admit it or not, the New Democrats remain a force to be reckoned with within this minority parliament. I may not agree with all of your positions (including your policy on Afghanistan), but I was still happy to lend you my vote back in 2006, to help put the tired and arrogant Liberal government out of its misery. You also tend to run good candidates in Kitchener Centre, so I was willing to entertain the possibility of voting NDP this election.

I am writing to tell you that you have lost my vote.

Yesterday, it was announced that the leader of the Green Party, Elizabeth May, would not be allowed to participate in the federal leaders debates to take place later in this campaign, this despite the fact that the Green Party won 4.5% of the vote in the 2006 election, and despite the fact that many polls place national support for the Green Party in the 8-10% range, where the NDP once stood during the mid 1990s.

In many ways, this decision is not so surprising, given how often this decision has been made beforehand. When a new national party materializes and becomes more than a blip on opinion polls, they’ve run into a wall of apathy from the media. The National Party was locked out of the 1993 debates, even though it was fielding more candidates than the Bloc Quebecois. The Greens have gone to the well several times, now that they’ve qualified for federal funding thanks to their rising level of support, and they’ve always been denied.

At least the rules have been consistent: plain opinion poll or ballot box support didn’t matter as long as you failed to elect an MP. As long as you had a member of parliament, and were a party recognized by Elections Canada, you were in. That’s how Preston Manning got his podium off the back of his then lonely MP Deborah Gray. That’s how Lucien Bouchard got his podium even though his MPs had, at that point, never been elected under the Bloc Quebecois banner (correction: one Bloc MP, Gilles Duceppe, was elected as a BQ/Independent in a 1990 by-election).

But the Greens had an MP when this parliament was dissolved. Yes, he was a late floor crosser, but the point remains: the excuses for keeping the Greens out of the debates were running out. And so the television networks have cited pressure from various party leaders saying that if Elizabeth May had been allowed into the debates, they themselves would boycott. Specifically, the television networks have said that this pressure, this blackmail, came from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and you.

I’m not going to waste time lecturing Stephen Harper for his arrogant attitude to the as many as 80% of Canadians who want to see the Greens included in the debate. His actions here are consistent with actions elsewhere. However, if these reports are true, I have to say that I’m disappointed in you. You have always campaigned for minority representation. Members of your party have argued passionately for election reform and proportional representation. You campaign on having the little voices heard.

And yet you stand up and threaten to walk out on a democratic debate if the Green voices are allowed to compete against yours? You choose to stand next to Stephen Harper in defying the desire of so many Canadians?

As of this moment, any possibility that I will be voting New Democrat in this coming election is lost. I had little patience for Harper when he promised to deliver better, more accountable, more democratic government for Canadians and failed. I have no patience for your platitudes either, sir.

Yours sincerely,
James Bow

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