Joe Clark on the Green Party and the debates

We’re not talking about the Rhinoceros Party. In the 2006 general election, the Greens won 665,940 votes, nearly 5 per cent of the total. Polls published this month by Segma, Ekos and Environics indicate that support for the Greens runs between 7 per cent and 10 per cent, even though the party has never been allowed to make its case in a national leaders debate. In nine provinces and three territories, the Greens have much more support than the Bloc Québécois, which is not only invited to the debates but has the power to veto other participants.

No law forbids Ms. May from joining the other leaders in a televised debate, just as no law forbade Mr. Obama or Mr. McCain from launching their improbable campaigns for a presidential nomination. Instead, the rules that keep her out are determined, in effect, by the political parties that are already in. Technically, the decision is taken by a consortium of the broadcasters who would carry the program; but, in announcing the decision to shut out Ms. May, that consortium has made it clear that the real veto is exercised by the other political parties.

So, it’s a club, whose members set their own rules.

Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for the network consortium, is quoted as saying that three parties – those led by Stephen Harper, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe – all opposed the participation of Ms. May in the so-called leaders debate, “and it became clear that if the Green Party were included, there would be no leaders debates.”

That’s blackmail. If these three men want to boycott a genuine debate, let them have the courage to do so openly. Let them also explain why, in a year when U.S. party establishments could not shut out an Obama or a McCain, it is appropriate for the Canadian party establishments to muzzle a significant voice for change.

I am not a supporter of any of the existing federal parties, including the Greens. But I am alarmed, and surprised, by how tightly the government now controls Parliament, how easily parties put their own interest ahead of the public interest, and how mean our public debate has become. We have to break that pattern, and one way to begin would be with a more inclusive leaders debate. I urge more Canadians to press these three leaders, and the broadcasting consortium they hide behind, to reconsider their exclusionary decision.

For Canadians concerned about democracy, the question is not why the Green Party should be let in. The question is: Why should the Greens be kept out?

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