Democracy takes a beating


“Here we are, day two of the Canadian election, and democracy is already taking a beating!”

Elizabeth May, a few minutes ago

Just when you think Canadian democracy has plumbed the depths, just when you think it can’t possibly get any more Third World-ish: we now hear that the Green Party leader is to be excluded from the televised debates. What regulatory body decided that she should be barred from participating in the single most important event of the campaign? Those peerless arbiters of the public interest, the broadcast networks. Well, they had help: they consulted with the other party leaders.

Got that? The right of the Greens to put their case before the people — and more important, the right of the people to hear their case — is to be decided by the very people with the most obvious vested interest in excluding them: the competition. At the same time, a vital question of electoral fairness has been, effectively, privatized, hostage to the networks’ calculations of what would make for “good TV.”

There are two conclusions that should be drawn from this. One, as a matter of immediate alarm: one way or another, the cozy little broadcaster-major party cartel has to be cracked open — the Greens have already announced their intention to take the matter to court. And two, it is long since past time this matter was taken out of the hands of the networks, and entrenched in the election laws.

Principle would certainly argue in favour of the Greens’ inclusion, with or without their recent acquisition of a former Liberal as their first Member of Parliament: with more than 600,000 votes in the last election, and at around 10 per cent in the last polls, the Greens have broken well clear of the ranks of the fringe parties. But however you come down on that question, we can surely agree that the question should not be decided by people with such glaring conflicts of interest. Whatever the rule on who gets in, it should be set by an impartial body, away from the narrow calculations of financial or partisan gain that inevitably attend the current ad hoc process.

There’s much else that’s wrong with how we do debates. It’s incredible that we are allowed, typically, just one debate in either language — candidates for president in the US must debate literally dozens of times — and utterly wrong that the debates are segregated by language: one for English Canada, and one reserved exclusively for pandering to Quebec.

But that’s for tomorrow. For today, it’s time to raise a little hell: Greens In Now!


Democracy takes a beating

  1. Did she announce she’s thrown it in with the Liberals yet?

    No wonder democracy’s taking a beating with the opposition scattered. Was she looking in the mirror when she thought of that line?

  2. I don’t think private media polls should be used to determine participation in election debates either.

    Some standard has to be set. What is it? Do the Greens meet it?

  3. This decision says much about the Bloq, NDP and Conservatives. And it has solidified my decision to vote Green, as I’ve just written in my blog. As for the former grassroots, principled, pro-democracy NDP, my feeling has gone beyond loathing.

  4. harper must marvel at how easy it is to push around the networks. all he needed to do was threaten to take his ball and go home, and they caved – even though (as everyone in ottawa knows by now) the networks were originally adamant that the greens be included. nice backbone, fellas.

  5. Andrew,

    Can you explain to me (us) how this whole thing isn’t a blatant violation of anti-trust law?

    It’s if, say, all the major hardware stores all got together and all agreed which paint companies they’d buy from and which they wouldn’t. We wouldn’t let that industry get away with that; why does the government allow the media to do this?

  6. I agree, but it’s hardly surprising: the whole damn industry is a creation of the state in the first place…

  7. Dennis: The standard they set last election was “The four most prominent parties with representation in the House of Commons”.

    Had they stuck to that standard, May still would have been out.

    Personally, I think the standard should be, “Where my taxes are funding the party and they have a theoretical chance to form a majority government.” Unfortunately, such a standard would always leave out the Bloc unless they ran a more national campaign.. hmm. National debates only participated in by those with national campaigns. Novel concept.

  8. Some standard has to be set. What is it? Do the Greens meet it?

    I’m no Green fan — heck, the Party once tried to sue me — but I’d think that receiving a sizable chunk of taxpayer money every year should be one of the main standards…

  9. here’s another thing that kind of sucks – the consortium has scheduled the english language debate for oct. 2, which is the same night as the (only) U.S. vp debate. political junkies, prepare your PVRs…

  10. Fine, I have no problem with setting the standard, for example, at 600,000 votes. 500,000. Whatever. But it has to be something, and it has to be something that envisions party circumstances beyond just the Greens.

    For example, what if a regional party gets that many votes but has no MPs, or candidates outside that region. Do they get in, too?

    I mean, it’s not that simple.

  11. “…just when you think it can’t possibly get any more Third World-ish”

    Rather, I think THE CONSORTIUM (*distant thunder*) has prevented our democracy from becoming any more European-ish (chronically fractured, indecisive, and dysfunctional).

  12. “Some standard has to be set. What is it?”

    I agree that standards need to be set and I would go by votes in previous election. Something like 300,000 votes means you’re no longer considered fringe. I would also make a rule about how you need votes from more than one province but that would be too much to ask for.

  13. Anti-trust? yeah, I saw that episode of the West Wing, too.

  14. I made the same point on BTC, Mike Moffat. It would be collusion by an oligopoly in any other industry.

    Shameful behaviour by the three political parties,(I’m not a GPC or a Liberal supporter by the way) and even more shameful behaviour by the imperious Consortium.

    Wasn’t their anyone in that room that feels a responsibilty to steward the public airwaves in a manner that contributes to democratic society? Anyone with principles?

  15. It would be better for democracy and free speech if Maclean’s be required to publish opinion pieces against the will of its editors. Agree or disgree?

  16. T. Thwim,

    The number “4” was not set in stone as a rule. From the consortium’s own explanation of the last debate’s participants…

    “The decision about who is invited to participate in the leaders’ debates is made by Consortium members on editorial grounds. In this election, the Consortium has only invited the leaders of the four most prominent parties with representation in the House of Commons.” (from the CBC ombud site)

    Other statements they made around the same time suggested that representation in the house was the determining factor.

    But we can now conclude that “editorial grounds” is a crock of s**t, since the decision was made by the NDP, Cons and BQ.

  17. Also worth noting that leaders debated only occur on an ad hoc basis in Australia and the UK (and usually not at all). The UK example is particularly instructive, since the major party leaders can and do agree without significant controversy to exclude the many 3rd party leaders, even those with sitting MPs.

    While this might become a political distraction (if this system was adopted in Canada), at least it would remain firmly in the political sphere where it belongs (not a matter for broadcasters or the courts to decide)

  18. Nice try, SD: if it were just one network holding its own debate, I’d agree with you. But this is all of the networks acting as a cartel.

  19. doesn’t may and dion have some kind of non-compete in place? if so, couldn’t dion just say “and that goes for the green party as well” after everything he says.

  20. Mr. Coyne,

    Why doesn’t Maclean’s host a debate with May included?

  21. How many people actually watched the last televised debate? Does it really matter that much? Will it affect the vote for the Greens?

  22. I think the simplest standard would be to you the new(ish) election financing law. The Greens get enough votes to get public $. They should be included in the debates, in part to account for the use of that $.
    If it’s a rule good enough for the Treasury, it should be good enough for The Consortium.

  23. I don’t know how, but above I wrote “to you” instead of “to use”.

  24. I don’t think this decision to exclude one party goes nearly far enough – the governing party should have the right to exclude ALL the other leaders from the debate! In fact, rather than forcing me to compare and contrast a whole bunch of competing ideas, the debate should be a 1-hour tutorial showing me how to mark “X” in the governing party’s vote box. I hope one hour would be long enough?

  25. Two Hats: The only problem with that is that if you get above a certain level of support in your own riding, you also get financing.

    So an independant like Chuck Cadman would technically deserve a spot as well.

    That’s why, in addition to receiving Elections Canada financing, I like to add the criteria of running candidates in at least half of the ridings, so that there’s a theoretical chance of you forming a majority government.

  26. I don’t get this weird decision
    How they caved to Stephen Harper
    And the other so-called leaders
    Who were threatening to boycott:
    Who on earth would ever boycott
    A debate before the nation
    What with everybody watching?
    Seems to me a weird decision
    Since the spineless cable networks
    Were in fact in a position
    To deny these guys exposure,
    Good exposure to the nation.
    It just seems a weird decision.

  27. The rules have to be tackled by the next Parliament. There should be no grey area. The rules in place now stress representation in the House. Either you must have multiple MP’s (the DRC, if they had continued and registered themselves as a political party, instead of just a parliamentary entity, would have qualified for the 2004 debates), or you must have elected a member to the House under your party banner. The first is the Bloc precedent, and the second is the Reform precedent.

    Perhaps the rules should’ve been bent to let May in, although the non-compete deal with the Liberals did not help at all (I’d like to see how much of the Greens’ budget is being funnelled into her efforts in Central Nova). May has declared on many occasions that Stephane Dion is her pick for Prime Minister, so there were no doubt concerns there.

    And yes, to echo Feschuk’s point, why oh why did they schedule the English language leaders debate for Oct. 2nd, the same date as the VP debates down south? The cynic in me thinks that perhaps the Liberals wanted this, hoping that people tune in to Biden-Palin instead of checking out their man under the spotlight.

  28. Jack: A debate with more than 4 candidates would be a mess and the networks know this. Even with only 4 candidates it’s barely managable in the limited time-slot they give it. But if they were to expand it to a series of debates it might cut in on the advertising revenue they can generate from CSI, and that’s far more important than the national interest.

  29. KRB: Stop lying. May has indicated that she’s her pick for Prime Minister, and when someone asked the question of “What if not you?” she went and gave an actual answer. Politically dumb, true, but at least honest.

    Let’s ask the same question of Layton or Duceppe, and then accuse them of endorsing whoever is their second place choice.

  30. “The rules have to be tackled by the next Parliament. There should be no grey area.”

    Either that or we could just let each individual network have their own debate. Though since the CBC is a government institution, they probably do need formalized rules.

    I don’t really care if CTV has all 5 leaders or just Dion v. Harper or even Garth Turner v. a Labrador Retreiver. It’s the industry collusion and the cozyness between government and the media that worries me.

  31. @ T. Thwim: good observation,
    It sure would be utter chaos.
    Though, in fairness, utter chaos
    Has been pretty much the standard
    In debates before the nation
    In our previous elections.
    Quite agree about the networks
    Re: CSI & revenue.

  32. Sure would love to see Garth Turner
    And a Labrador retriever
    Face to face before the nation
    Trumping CSI completely.

  33. T. Thwim, sorry dude but that’s the truth. She’s said it on a number of occasions. Oh, I’m sure she puts out the “I’m running for PM” thing just like Layton is doing, but really, both claims are ridiculous. But “I’m running for potential Deputy PM in a potential coalition government” doesn’t make for a good soundbite.

    T. Thwim, May is not running a candidate against Dion, and Dion is not running a candidate against her. That’s more than just a “oh well if not me, then him” endorsement. When May claims that non-compete deals between leaders are common, she fails to mention that this is only done during by-elections.

  34. “Sure would love to see Garth Turner And a Labrador retriever Face to face before the nation”

    That’s no disrespect to Garth; I’ve lost more debates than I’ve won against my chocolate Lab. They’re stubborn.

  35. When the editors of a Science journal ask your competitors whether they want your voice added to the debate, it is called “Peer Review”.
    It is an absurd way to conduct free scientific inquiry and when the the government-funded broadcaster asks the government party if it wants any more competition during an election, the results are equally dire.
    I really can’t blame the Tories – what Free Enterprise Party actually likes free competition ?
    But I do think the CBC is so embedded within its paymasters’ battalions that it can’t do its job properly anymore.
    Michael Marshall Halifax

  36. Michael Marshall,

    This is not something to do the CBC directly – it’s a consortium of national broadcasters.

  37. 5-person debates are hell. I still suffer from flashbacks of Debate 2000. Although they seem to be able to pull it off in the party primary debates in the States. Up here though the leaders just butt in and talk over anyone speaking, and it’s just a loud mess.

    That’s the first thing they have to address: allowing others to finish a point, even though it might be totally steaming up some other leader. The free-for-all segment is just garbage. I know the networks are hoping for a debate haymaker like Mulroney-on-Turner in ’84, but those are very rare things indeed.

    A debate between ALL of the significant parties would be tolerable if it was balanced by Prime Minister Debates between only the parties who are seriously contending to win a plurality of the seats (and hence have their leader become PM). Despite what Layton says, that would be only Harper and Dion right now.

    Criteria for deciding that? You could say the governing party and the Official opposition, and perhaps any other party consistently polling above 20-25%.

    Of course, Dion would never agree to a 1-on-1 debate with Harper, even though he asked for one in the summer.

  38. At least with peer review you can provide a (short) list of people you don’t want to be reviewers. This is totally different.

  39. KRB, if I may quote you:

    “That’s the first thing they [should tackle]
    [Letting] other [people] finish..
    even though it might be totally
    steaming up some other leader.
    Free-for-all … is [simply] garbage.”

    Yeah, but that’s what they are used to
    In the noble House of Commons!
    Do they act the same, I wonder,
    When discussing private issues
    With their children or their spouses,
    Letting other people finish?
    I say, let them face the nation
    And discuss important issues
    With a sense of some decorum:
    Then we’ll fix the House of Commons
    So they act the same within it!

  40. While I agree that an independent body should decide who participates in a debate, Elizabeth May made her bed when should was part of the “Think Twice” coalition.
    The only thing more interesting to me than the plus/minus on how many seats for each party is the over/under on the number of days before Ms. May tells Green voters to vote for the Liberals.
    I am pretty sure if she was in the debates that would have been the day.

  41. Of course, it’s all very revealing when asked why, exactly, do we not have proportional representation in this country yet?

    Well, uh, because it would hurt the established parties, who essentially argue that Canadians are too stupid to figure out Pro Rep. Duh.

    Apparently we’re also too stupid to make up our own minds regarding who’s best fit to lead our country… Hmm.

  42. Well said KRB : you are exactly right about the little tryst between Dion and May and I am waiting for the day that this honeymoon is over and the consequences it will have which could be significant.

  43. Re: Macleans should host an all leaders debate

    (by Sean S. on Monday, September 8, 2008 at 5:21 pm)

    I agree with this.

    Unfortunately the debates (really a singular debate for anglophones and francophones) have become increasingly dry and contrived over the past years and this has served the exaggerate the cynicism and complacency shared by many voters, especially amongst young Canadians.

    Here’s a solution (one that is within Macleans power to bring about): Televise/Stream a debate independent of the ‘consortium’ and mix it up a bit. A few suggestions for getting people more interested and involved in democracy:

    1. Combine the English and French aspects. This is about Canada and we all share in this. Do not to exclude regional issues but keep them connected to the broader context.

    2. All questions should be submitted via the Internet in video form. Set up kiosks in shopping malls, etc., for people without access to a computer. Give people the option of asking a question that matters *to them*. Give them the ability to ask it of one leader or all.

    3. Instead of one moderator, select a panel. Think of it as a Canadian Political Idol. Allow the moderators to ask follow ups or ask for clarification if a leader fails to give a clear answer.

    Any other ideas?

  44. “…and one reserved exclusively for pandering to Quebec.” Coyne, as good Trudeauite that you are, I would imagine you’d want 10 debates, one in each province?

    As for Elizabeth May and the Green Party, if May hadn’t turned the party into a vehicle for promoting Elizabeth’s May’s priorities, I’d have more sympathy for her position. As it is, she’s hi-jacked the Green Party and is on record as supporting Stephane Dion for Prime Minister.

    Put most importantly, rules are rules, they need to get someone elected in Parliament.

  45. I have this image running through my head about this consortium. The very word evokes…something’s up.

    So I know this place it would be perfect. Nice little family place. We sit down have a dinner ba-da-boom…

    In the bathromm there’s one of those old toilets with the tank lued to the wall…and a long chain to flush…

  46. Elizabeth May sent an e-mail today in support of a Liberal candidate much to the consternation of the Green candidate in that riding. (H/T National Newswatch) Does anyone need any further evidence that May is using the Green Party as a surrogate party for the federal Liberals? It’s weird and completely undermines the attraction of the Green party as a new anti-establishment party, but there you have it.

  47. You’re right Andrew, there should be multiple debates, and for more parties.

    I’m spitting mad over this, and will work hard to see Layton, Duceppe, and Harper go down for chickening out in a debate with May.

  48. It seems like the sticking point for May’s three opponents was the agreement between May and Dion to not run candidates in each other’s ridings.

    Like so many actions taken in politics, that move was a double-edged sword. And now the other edge of the sword is being used against May-Dion.

    But the solution to this and other messes on the left is simple–unite already ! Sheeesh, just put aside your petty personal and policy differences, pay off all your debts, come up with a name like “Labour” or something, and a heck of a lot of your problems will be solved.

    Your hatred for Harper has blinded you to his substantial accomplishments on the right. Learn from his example.

  49. cms – you have some good ideas there. Instead of setting up debates to facilitate a possible sound bite or two (“you had an option!”, for example), the sort of format you’re suggesting would be more focussed on holding the leaders’ feet to the fire of clarifying and defending their positions. It would lessen the emphasis on charismatic personality cults, and instead provide voters with better information to cast their ballots on the basis of.

    Hell, I’d say we should skip having them yell at each other altogether, and instead give them a task to complete cooperatively. I bet we’d learn all we need to know from watching the five of them try to build a shed together on camera…

    But seriously, we clearly need to change our approach to “debates” in a way that makes broader participation possible and useful.

  50. “candidates for president in the US must debate literally dozens of times”

    Hey, you should definitely make a post summarizing the McCain/Obama debates that I’ve missed. Oh, wait, there haven’t been any.

    The plan is three times.

  51. Ms. May’s exclusion from the Leaders’ Debates sends a message to greater society that if you are part of a disenfranchised group then your voice simply does not matter. More importantly, this situation may have have inadvertently become genderized thereby raising the lack of women in Canadian politics as a legitimate campaign issue.

  52. Mike G,

    I’m including the primaries. Obviously.

  53. The idea of a Maclean’s debate seems to be catching on.

    Great idea.

    Whoops! Harper and Layton are going to boycott.

  54. TT: “Stop lying.”

    MYL: Would it be possible, fellow commenters, to refrain from such silly insults? The troll commenter quoted above has levelled a charge of libel in recent past, charge for which s/he has refused to substantiate with any actual evidence. If only because such silliness detracts from the actual message, please may we all grow up.

  55. Re: Macleans should host an all leaders debate

    (comment by Sean S. on Monday, September 8, 2008 at 7:49 pm)

    Sean, I totally agree that something needs to change. The existing format is quite staid and no longer congruent with the evolution of our democracy.

    I was amazed at the video questions presented to the candidates at the YouTube/CNN cadidate debates last year. Garth Turner took a step towards the idea of direct digital democracy by asking some rather pointed questions of Finance Minister Flaherty submitted by readers of his blog at the last Committee of the Whole for Finance.

    When will Canada make this jump? It’s clear the ‘consortium’ is unprepared to rethink democracy in the 21st century. Who will step up to the plate?

  56. madeyoulook, T. Thwim is not a troll. Or were you trolling for that? Am I?

  57. I don’t know about who will step up, pretty exciting time we got here.

  58. It seems to me they have to draw the line somewhere when deciding who gets into the debates.

    There’s no doubt, it was stupid for the network to ask the other candidates.

    It was also stupid for May to be endorsing Liberals whenever she gets the chance and then whine about the exclusion of the Greens.

    Having too many people in the debates is also not good. I would prefer to see a one-on-one Dion-Harper debate. No other party has a chance to form a government. Instead, we can expect to see 4 party leaders gang up on 1, which is not fair.

    The last thing that should happen is for government to get involved, for laws to be passed on this, etc. The problem is that the networks are cozy with the government, so getting the government involved further is not a solution.

  59. Re: Too many voices

    (Comment by sf on Tuesday, September 9, 2008 at 12:30 am)

    sf, I agree the line has to be drawn somewhere. Stockwell Day drew it at 3%, in his direct democracy referendum proposals. The number should be fair in balancing brevity with democracy and apply to all future situations, not just the issue of the day.

    I would like to see a Dion-Harper debate as well. Dion has asked Harper but Harper seems to be adverse to this idea. I don’t think there’s such a thing as ‘too many’ people in a debate. This is democracy, after all, which means the voice of the many. Whether or not a party can be expected to form the government, their points of view and policy proposals are just as valid.

    Which brings me to your third point, where you said it was stupid of Ms. May to endorse the Liberals. In fact, I think this was very smart of her. Like you said, her party has no chance of forming government. As a pragmatist, she recognizes this and sees parallels in the Liberal environment policy and Stéphane Dion. Perhaps this is the beginning of coalition governments in Canada?

    I’m fed up with parties who all share in the challenges facing Canada and overlap in terms of their policy but insist on futile exercises in narcissism which ultimately shall be to the detriment of their supporters.

  60. Damn straight May should get a crack at the debates. How dare the “media consortium” get to dictate who gets their views aired and who does not? After all, if not in the venue of the debate, how else will anyone ever hear the Green’s plans?

    While we’re at it, how dare Maclean’s not offer space to the Canadian Islamic Congress to offer their viewpoints. After all, if not in the venue of this national newsmagazine, how else will anyone every hear their ideas?

  61. Mike G,

    I’m including the primaries. Obviously.

    Dion (& the others) debated what, a dozen times during the Liberal leadership campaign? Those ten-way mega-debates across the country? It’s not that it doesn’t happen here, we just don’t pay attention, and we don’t have that two-year many-million-dollar run-up to pick candidates for chief executive. We have five weeks, and that’s all we have — I wouldn’t mind there being more debates in those five weeks, but I think it’s a bit disingenuous to compare our system to the American system straight across.

  62. JS: When there is a possibility that the CIC will be involved with creating and passing Canadian legislation, get back to us.

    MYL: I’ll call’em as I see’em. To say that May endorsed the Liberal Party is quite simply a lie. You might just as easily say that Dion endorsed the Green Party, or that Harper endorsed GWB, and they’d all be equally as mistaken.

    Personally, I think it’s pretty sad when a politician is able to look at the political landscape, understand that minority governments may well be the future, and be lambasted for having the nerve to suggest they might cooperate for the good of Canadians. Are libertarian/conservatives that against cooperation?

  63. Oh wait.. it appears Mr. Harper has hereby endorsed Independant MP Andre Arthur. No doubt he intends to fold up the party as soon as the debates come along and cede power to Msr. Arthur.

  64. The Fascist, corporate, militaristic, secretive (Bush-Bot) Harper Neo-Cons are trying to banish democratic populism. Ohhh, the blatantly authoritarian hypocrisy.

    1) Are there not enough Green Party seats ? The (populist) Reform Party only had 1 seat in 1993 and Preston Manning was permitted in the debates.

    2) Is there not enough Green Party support ? The Green Party received much more support in their last election than the Reform Party did in 1988. Currently, between 1 million and 5 million Canadians are considering voting for the Green party in 2008. The establishment is obviously feeling threatened by a populist leader whose party is the epitome of progressive, environmentalist policy.

    3) The Green Party doesn’t have official party status ? Well, Neither did the NDP and Progressive Conservative party in 1997, but both were allowed to debate .

    4) Are there not enough Green Party candidates ? The Greens ran candidates in all 308 ridings in the last election. Now, how many ridings do the Bloc run in again ?

    Again, the authoritarian, secretive, manipulative, hypocritical Neo-Cons are behind this.

    “You can’t have one leader on stage that has already endorsed the candidacy of another and signed an electoral co-operation agreement,” said Harper spokesman Dimitri Soudas.

    “When it comes to the debate, they can have May or they can have Dion,” he said.

    “But they can’t have both.”

    That sounds like the decree of a self-appointed dictator.

    Canadian political parties have long had agreements not to run candidates in the riding of the leader of another party. But the Neo-Cons attempt at Green Party banishment and blindly authoritarian hypocrisy shows that that Harper is a ruthless, dictatorial, oblivious Neo-Con just like Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld and Bush. Instead of free debate and genuine democracy, the Neo-Cons have (again) chosen blatant, partisan stifling and hardline repression of opposing viewpoints.

    Why ? Because they are frightened of a genuine threat to their entrenched power and their desire to exponentially INCREASE that power.

    We are witnessing a full frontal assault on democracy and free speech by Harper & Company.

    In 2002, Harper said, “Kyoto is essentially a socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations.” Harper & Co. have recently devised a politically expedient, ideological flip-flop in order to capitalize on earth-friendly popular sentiment. But they are all Dick Cheney oil men at heart.

  65. Well, for me I would rather that there be no debates at all rather than one censored by the government. The Green Party clearly has a national following as indicated in the polls and deserves to be heard as much as any of the other main parties. Of course Harper thinks the inclusion of May is unfair because it can highlight the weaknesses of the Conservative environmental policy.
    I just wish the consortium had called his bluff – just think how it would look to have an empty podium on stage while other leaders could have at him with a free rein.

  66. Well, I guess I’ll expect the Block to be excluded as well as they have no hope of forming even a minority government even if they win every single riding in which they run a candidate. Since they cannot even form a minority government, anything they have to say is, simply, a waste of my time; except this is a democracy and they have the right to be heard as do the Greens.

    Messers Harper and Layton, should you choose not to accept an invitation to participate in the debate which is to include the green party, then so-be-it, but the CANADIAN PEOPLE do have the right to hear the ideas and platform proposed by the green party.

  67. Arguments about who should be included in “the leaders’ debate” are usually 99% (Harry G. Frankfurt) bullshit, which makes even this well-meaning discussion difficult to take seriously.

    1. They are not debates. Debates require arguments and counter-arguments, and – arguably – involve only two people. They involve a debating question. And, they usually involve the use of MATERIAL facts. What we get, instead, is usually a boring 1 hour effort in which everyone tries to deliver an ad hominem gotcha for the 11 PM news, a la the oh-so-tired “You had a choice, sir” (apparently, the best clip Canadian political history has to offer…pathetic). Worse: almost all opinion-makers present these jokes as though they are an important consideration for reasoned voting.

    2. The ACTUAL purpose of the debates is to tell the voting public who is to be considered “legit”. The message sent by the networks is: “These are the leaders of the only parties you should vote for. The rest are all fringe parties, with nutty ideas, and it would be dangerous or stupid to vote for them. Look no further than the parties led by these 4 clowns”. In other words, the ONLY reason for appearing on the stage is to communicate to the public that the establishment has VETTED you. Elizabeth May (or, in provincial elections, people like myself, Frank deJong etc.) are excluded precisely to prevent the emergence of parties who propose actual CHANGES. Shorter still: the function of the televised debates is to maintain the status quo. So for people to argue about how to set a bar for inclusion misses the entire point: the only real prequisite is that your party will change nothing that matters to big business, big unions, and other big organizations who don’t want their government hand-out, protection, exclusive contract, etc. put at risk.

    3. Arguments about who should be included are really arguments about who should be EXCLUDED. If you want to have a better grasp on the issue, consider the policies of the parties that are excluded. It is all you really need to know.

    4. Consider that, during an election, the idea of how many seats a party has is pointless: nobody has any seats – the legislature/Parliament has been dissolved, and the Conservatives currently have no more seats than do the Communist Party of Canada.

    5. Arguments about inclusion usually propose considerations about past performance, rather than about ideas. If the purpose of a debate is to debate ideas so that voters can decide for themselves with which party’s ideas they agree, how many people voted for the ideas that purportedly got the parties elected 3 or 4 years ago is irrelevant: hopefully, they are not the same ideas that are being debated today.

    Journalists who think that the networks deserve to have their asses whooped over exclusion of political party leaders should take a tip from their own practices. When a party comes up with a good idea, but the party proposing it is someone they do not want to legitize by explicitly mentioning it, they do one of two things: pretend the party doesn’t exist and write nothing, or say that “some are saying” the thing that the journalist finds to be a good idea. To whack the networks: give the “leaders debate” the silent treatment. Don’t write about it. Don’t legitimize it. Don’t help the effort to pretend that it is a debate of ideas. Don’t make voters believe that it actually matters a pinch of racoon-poop which leader “looked statesman-like”. Just pretend it didn’t happen, until leaders debates cease to be vetting processes, and start to be what they purport to be: a service for voters.

  68. T. Thwim on Tuesday, September 9, 2008 at 4:56 am:

    Ditto, my friend. Ditto.

  69. Welcome to North Zimbabwestan, where fair play and accountable elections are a thing of the past.
    Election laws, irrelevant!
    Spending rules, Not for me!
    Open debate, hell no!

    Not only do we need Green inclusion but we also need more debates and less smarmy lying commercials. Provincial debates might be a few too many, but certainly regional debates or multiple national debates including all Elections Canada funded parties should be the norm. AC is correct this should not be in the hands of the media or involved parties.

  70. The criteria for inclusion in this national leaders’ debate is a joke. The so-called major parties are so because of an undemocratic electoral system. While not being a Green Party supporter, I still do not support its exclusion from any national political debate given the party received 665,876 votes and received no seats in parliament. The Conservatives received 124 seats that averaged 43,305 votes per seat. The actual/potential support of the Green party is likely higher if proportional representation was in effect. The so-called major parties are not eager to democratize the electoral process because of the disproportionate gain they now receive from an electoral system that yields them more support in seats and in government than would be the case under proportional representation.

    And Harper’s childish reasoning for eliminating the Green Party from any national debate only reflects his immaturity and lack of confidence in his ability to debate an issue he does not support: the environment. Let him take his bat and ball and go home like the spoiled child he is and allow the remainder to debate. The whole process is a farce and most of the citizens are the real victims and losers as this policy is to maintain the rigid control of the political system by the ruling economic interests.

  71. CS: Let him… go home… and allow the remainder to debate.

    MYL: Actually, that’s all Harper could ever do. My understanding of the reporting was “if she’s there, I won’t be.” Only the reporting said that three parties made that position clear (BQ now apparently backpedaling). So he cannot “eliminat[e] the Green Party from any national debate,” he can merely choose to not participate himself.

  72. Set up several criteria:

    1) 5% of vote in last election
    2) Official party status as of dissolution of the House
    3) Seats in 2 out of 4 regions as of dissolution of the House (or X out of X, depending on how you want to break up the country)
    4) Running candidates in 95% of ridings in current election

    If your party meets three out of four criteria, your leader gets to participate in national debates.

    Then set up regional debates with a much lower criteria to be included.

    This would keep the national leaders debate restricted to leaders that at least were trying to be Prime Minister, eliminate purely regional parties from a national debate, and probably lead to a better debate with fewer participants.

    Some rules would have to be established for the dissolution/merging/renaming of parties…

  73. I think the standard for being included in the debates should be the same as getting federal funding. If you qualify for one, you qualify for the other.

    I think the NDP should drop the word “Democratic” from their name. The irony is just sickening.

  74. David: If you get 15% of the vote of your particular riding, you get federal funding. There needs to be additional criteria, or every elected independant technically deserves a spot in a national debate.

  75. @ T. Thwim on Sep 8, at 5:31 pm and again Sep 9, at 12:17 pm:

    You have to make a distinction between candidate expense reimbursement and party funding. Recognised, registered parties that receive more than 4% (IIRC; the exact % may be diff) get annual funding from the government ($1.75/vote each year or something like).
    Is this an arbitrary standard? Yes. Is it reasonable? I’d say yes. As did the Parliament of Canada.

    I’m arguing (and I guess David Strbavy is too) that since we have this standard already anyway, for a similar purpose (ie, recognising when a party is mainstream enough to get on-going public funding AS A PARTY, not as individuals), we might reasonably use the same standards inclusion in the debate structure (which itself needn’t be a single pair of all-in debates).

  76. Undemocratic, self-serving, shameful, cowardly, etc. Consistent with my existing impression of Stephen Harper, but I am shocked that Jack Layton (who I actually voted for before) was part of this betrayal of the public trust.

  77. Undecided voter – as in the past, it takes an elected MP in Parliament to participate. This is no different than 2004 or 2006 when the Greens didn’t participate. Actually, one thing has changed, the leader of the Green Party has endorsed Stephane Dion, one of the debate partipants, for Prime Minister.

    Ms. May says she will attend the debates nonetheless. That’s good. She can cheer Dion from the bleachers.

  78. Please note that the leader that refused to participate was Steve Harper. He was concerned that May’s affinity for policies similar to the Liberals would have him facing a 2 pronged Liberal attack during the debates. The Greens polled 10 % of the popular vote in the last election. Harper is, in effect disenfranchising anyone who voted Green.
    I personally don’t support May’s policies or beliefs but I would defend her right to express them. The last time I checked Canada was still a democracy even if the sitting government would like to see it changed to something they would feel more comfortable with.

  79. Some people (Strbaty, undecided voter, others) are compaining that Harper, Layton, Duceppe want to exclude the Greens.

    C’mon! It is their job to try to win the election. If they have the chance to knock out an adversary, they will. You cannot blame them. Why in heck would Layton, Harper, Duceppe do otherwise? You have to blame us! You have to blame this ridiculous bradcasting coalition, which is a cartel that should be illegal. We are the ones that are supposed to hold their feet to the fire. If people want the Greens in the debate, they should demand it, or threaten to park their votes for the Greens, or the Rhinos. If they are not prepared to send their votes elsewhere, then they should stop whining about the Greens.

    The fact is, the Greens do not have enough popular support or potential to win in order for this to cost the other parties.

    I would be worried for Canadian democracy if the other parties did NOT try to exclude the Greens. Then I would be wondering about the corruption and the collusion.

  80. Andrew,

    This may be the first time that I have EVER agreed with you. Thanks for having the cajones to break from the right/left ideological split and call a spade a spade!!!

  81. “The media consortium has made it’s decision” , Harper smugly said.

    It’s quite obvious that the Neo-Cons are pulling the corporate puppet consortium strings.

  82. sf: Be careful what you wish for. After fiddling with the election prediction sites, I’ve found that if a good chunk of the NDP voters vote Green in protest (something which may even be possible, as ‘giving a shot to the little guy’ seems to be fairly deep in the NDP psyche) the Liberals get a minority government, even with a Bloc collapse.

  83. What Elizabeth May said last year:

    “Yes, Stephane Dion would like to see me in the House of Commons and I think that he should be prime minister,” she said, adding with a laugh: “Of course, I’m my first choice for prime minister but he’d be very good as second choice.”

    May also vowed to defend Dion’s record and character, calling him a man of “deep integrity and extraordinary character.”

    “I admire Stephane Dion enormously. … I think it would be despicable to hide the truth from Canadians when I think Stephane Dion’s a fine person.””

    She should be in the bleachers with all the others cheering their favorite candidates on.

  84. (To Jarrid of Wednesday, September 10, 2008 at 8:27 am):

    Re: Would like to see May in a cheerleader costume

    Stéphane Dion is a fine person. I can understand that you have a hard time understanding a relationship between two parties that *isn’t* bellicose and adversarial.

    The “belittling” attack ads that the Conservatives have been hitting Mr. Dion with since he was elected leader of the Liberal Party are quite telling of their own character.

    Do you agree with Mr. Harper’s decision to drop his “objections”?

  85. helvetia has something like democracy. you are not even close. until you figure this out, and do something to get citizen initiative, you live in an elective oligarchy. your noses will be pressed against the outside of the window while inside the elite will be deciding on your life. usually the curtains will be drawn…

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