On Elizabeth May's Exclusion from the Televised Leaders' Debates

I’ve voted Green in the past, and I’m still sympathetic to the party. I also believe that Elizabeth May is an intelligent person who has done much to raise the party’s profile. However, I’m not surprised to learn that a consortium of Canadian broadcasters has denied her access to the televised leaders debates. I would go further to say that their decision makes a lot of sense. Arbitrary though the rules may seem, they’re not being applied arbitrarily here.

In Canadian leaders’ debates going back as far as I can remember, the criteria for gaining access has always been that a party recognized by Elections Canada must have at least a seat in the House of Commons. It explains why, in 1993, the Reform Party and the Bloc Quebecois were included when the National Party was not, even though the National Party was running more candidates than the other two. I even recall seeing a tape of the 1972 Leaders Debate, which featured Pierre Trudeau, Robert Stanfield and Tommy Douglas, and that’s all. Where was RĂ©al Caouette, the leader of the Creditistes? Did he participate in the French language debate?

The only reason Elizabeth May managed to swing a ticket to the 2008 debates is because independent (former Liberal) MP Blair Wilson announced that he was joining the Greens. He didn’t win his seat afterward. No Green candidate did.

Mind you, that won’t stop leader May from criticizing the injustice of it all. And nor should it, really. In terms of publicity, it’s a boost. And it is fair to argue to Canadians that it is not fair that a party that received over 937,000 votes in the last election (6.78% of the vote) is denied this chance to address Canadians.

But, really, the bigger injustice is not that a consortium of broadcasters is consistently following their well established rules. The real injustice is that 937,000 Canadians spoke up and asked for Green Party representation in parliament, and that 6.78% of the vote translated into exactly 0% of the seats, thanks primarily to an accident of geography. By rights, they should have gotten as many as 20. And if those 937,000 Canadians had somehow managed to up sticks and move to a smattering of specific ridings, they could easily have grabbed as many as thirty seats in parliament. Hey, the Bloc Quebecois manages to wrangle 50 seats, with only 442,000 more voters.

Again, our antiquated first-past-the-post system is distorting the democratic picture of this country. And that’s an injustice that affects not just the Green Party, but every Canadian voter.

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