The debates mess (1) – The Greens


Let’s suppose Ford, GM and Chrysler sat down with all the television networks, and agreed to ban Toyota ads from the airwaves. Would anyone think this was right? To be sure, these are all private companies, who are entitled to decide for themselves with whom they will deal. But there would presumably be some anti-competition concerns raised even then.

But now suppose we are talking not about the auto industry, but an election campaign — the very essence of a public matter — the centrepiece of which is a televised election debate: the more so because there will be only one such debate, in each official language. Yet the dynamics of what has just happened are the same: the networks, in collusion with the four established political parties, have agreed to exclude another party from the debate(s) — that is, to exclude one of the established parties’ competitors, the Green Party.

Personally, I think this is outrageous. It’s obviously impossible to include every single party, no matter how marginal, in the debates, or mayhem would ensue. But the Greens are hardly a marginal party. In the last election, they pulled nearly 1-million votes, or 7 per cent of the vote: all the smaller parties combined added up to less than 1 per cent. The Greens have clearly broken from the pack. They have much more in common with the big four than the others, including running candidates in all (or nearly all) 308 ridings.

Whoops. The Bloc runs candidates in barely a quarter of the ridings, but they’re in. But — as a thousand bloggers rise to point out — the Bloc has seats in Parliament, unlike the Greens. But why should that be the decisive factor? Surely that’s a comment more on our broken electoral system than anything else. As it is, the Greens are able to attract nearly a million voters to trudge to the polls on their behalf, in the certain knowledge that they will not elect a single member. Imagine how many votes they might get if they actually had a chance of electing someone. Or if people had a chance to see their leader in the debate(s).

Anyway. I have my views on whether the Greens should be allowed in, and you have yours. But there should be some transparent, generally accepted rule that guides these decisions, rather than ad hoc negotiations behind closed doors. And surely we can agree that whatever the rule is, it should not be set by a consortium of the self-interested, but by some independent, impartial arbiter. Yet here we are, yet again, with the same rampantly conflicted crew being allowed to decide the rules of our democracy.


The debates mess (1) – The Greens

  1. Totally agree, May should be there.

    Libs and NDP agree also. Cons and the Bloc…the Bloc of all things….disagree.

  2. What if the debate was only open to the leaders of parties running candidates in all 308 ridings? As I understand things, that would leave Harper out because the Cons aren't planning to oppose "Independent" Arthur Andre (or is it Andre Arthur?)

    • Andre Arthur.

    • …and last election, both the Liberals and the Greens would also have been left out, because the Liberals didn't run a candidate against Elizabeth May, and the Greens didn't run one against Stephane Dion. That means that the last debate would have been between Jack Layton and himself (assuming the NDs ran 308 candidates – I haven't actually checked).

      A 308 candidate standard would be obviously unworkable, and I don't think anybody has seriously suggested it. My preference would a "either has representation in the House of Commons and runs at least twenty candidates [a totally arbitrary number] OR runs at least 275 candidates [also totally arbitrary]" standard", but I'd really be okay with anything remotely reasonable that was spelled out in advance and applied consistently.

  3. Seems to me that Mr. Coyne's argument is based on the premise that we have only one debate.

    Personally, I reject that premuse. Many have written over the past days, why limit ourselves to one? Why not have multiple debates, with multiple configurations?

    • He's using that premise because the prime minister has said he will participate in only one debate.

      • This is what I wanted to say as well. If Mr. Harper doesn't wish to participate in more than one debate, why should that stop the other candidates from doing so? I think Ms. May should be able to participate in a debate with the other four. I'd also like to see a debate with only Harper and Ignatieff.

  4. Mr.Coyne, very fair point of view put forward.

    Personally I would like to see a much narrowed down debate, something like the one-on-one suggested by Harper and taken up by Ignatieff.

    In fact, after the 2008 elections I wrote several media outlets to do things differently this time concerning the debates. But alas, nothing changes.

    If Duceppe is invited in than so should May. I believe Duceppe is the least qualified to enter into the debates because he and his party do not even speak about federal concerns. Duceppe has an easy time of it during the debates, attacking some serious federal party leaders who need to keep in mind all of what Canada entails, not just try and defend the interest of one province.

    But should the media consortium not have been aware of those differences from the get-to? I guess they just don't see the difference between the leader of a federal party and the leader of a provincial party.

  5. Recognizing that they didn't have a Blair Wilson floor crossing prop lined up this time, and that E May had long contended that she, herself, would not be participating much in a national campaign, focusing as she has for the past 1 1/2 yrs on Saanich Gulf Islands, getting into the debates this time around should not have been a foregone conclusion.

    So, what should they have done? Rather than blowing 10 G's on the anti-attack ad attack ad (amusing for a day or so) they should have produced an ad advocating on why they should have been included this go around.

    Proactive not reactive. It wasn't hard to anticipate the pickle they find themselves in now. I'm not surprised, frankly.

    • Blair Wilson as the floor crossing prop…

      I'm having a very tough time understanding why the consortium decided to allow MS May last timie but not this time.

      Sure, last time the consortium had the 'cover' of Blair Wilson, the former Liberal (?), turned independant (?), turned Greeen at the eleventh hour.

      But obviously using his incumbent MP status together with his Green Party membership only provided the consortium with the tiniest imaginable fig leaf to hide behind – really, that was a facade that anyone and everyone could see past.

      Yet, with that tiny amount of cover they had the gumption to include Ms May in 2008, and now, somehow, without that tiny 'excuse' they decline? Something else is going on, somehting else indeed.

    • "Rather than blowing 10 G's on the anti-attack ad attack ad (amusing for a day or so) they should have produced an ad advocating on why they should have been included this go around."

      And how, at that time, would they have known about their exclusion? They've laid claim to a lot of strenghs, but I haven't heard that prescience was one of them.

      • It wouldn't take a leap of faith.

        What have you heard from May in the past two years? Nada?

        The Greens get roughly $1.8 million per yr +/- , I believe May gets paid around $75k , and two Deputy Leaders get some sort of stipend as well. Their Quebec Dep Leader, George Laraque, isn't even putting his name in as a paper candidate.

        Are we getting good value for taxpayer money? The GPC as a "national party" is a far cry from 2006. The decision makers at the consortium would have been aware of this – so May should not be "shocked" at their decision. She/they have no political smarts. Stick to environmental activism at an ENGO.

        • First, she won the battle to get included in the last round of debates and, after the controversy, could have reasonably assumed that dragon had been slain.

          Furthermore, they are running candisates in all (or nearly all) 308 ridings.

          Further furthermore, they've garnered a significant portion of the popular vote (over a million) in recent elections and could have reasonably assumed those voters would have a voice at the table.

          Rather than taking a "leap of faith", committing limited funds to fighting that battle again sounds to me more like an assumption of cynicism.

          • they've garnered a significant portion of the popular vote (over a million)

            941,097 rounded to the north side of the nearest million.

            Your insight sounds to me like you'd be qualified to be a GPC strategist / campaign manager. That's not an exclusive club , btw, in any sense based upon the number of the walking dead who recently held the position(s).

          • No "insight" involved; just a sense of justice which, surprisingly on this issue, is evidently shared by Coyne. I've never voted Green nor studied their platform in depth, so I wouldn't presume to be qualified to be a GPC strategist.

            But thanks for the reference.

          • I've never voted Green nor studied their platform in depth, so I wouldn't presume to be qualified to be a GPC strategist.

            That's where we differ. I make informed opinions.

            Btw, AC stood alone last night on At Issue – Chantal and Alan Gregg were against inclusion. Jeffrey Simpson of the G&M has long flipped over to the no side after, like many others, advocating her inclusion in the 2008 debates (myself included).

        • Dot, such pro-active ad could have been a great one. I agree with you. It could have been playing up the party's message and the message that they would certainly be part of the upcoming debates, all wrapped up into one.

          Why not? The Greens could have even included such message within their latest ad – they could have inserted the line – "And you will hear more from the Greens in action in the upcoming leader's debate…….silenc………..not??

          In fact it would have sent a very strong message well in advance without having to know how the final decision would come down from the media consortium.

          I think you made a great point, dot.

        • I've heard from her lots.

          It's also not up to you to decide if she's getting me good value for my $2. If I don't want to vote for her party again, I don't have to. I can try to give my $2 to another party.

          Shockingly, it's almost like the goddamned free market everyone seems to moan on about. Your opinion on Green Party affairs is unneeded and unwanted.

          • Your opinion on Green Party affairs is unneeded and unwanted.

            So ignore it. Simple enough.

          • Your response is oddly hypocritical. By extension, if you don't want my opinion about your meddling, ignore it. Simple enough.

  6. To level the playing field, evaluate the debates for what they are: political ads, and give the non participing parties an equal amount in airtime (or the money that would be needed to purchase the airtime) to spend on getting their plafforms known. Other parties could also opt out and take the money instead.

  7. Great piece, Andrew. I think that you're expressing the feelings of a majority (or damn close to it) of Canadians when you say "Yet here we are, yet again, with the same rampantly conflicted crew being allowed to decide the rules of our democracy." Perfectly put.

    • There's no rule/law that says there has to be debates. He who has the gold, writes the rules. Plenty of other options – Why not In Conversation with Macleans on CPAC – or is that out there already?

  8. I agree with Coyne that we need something more concrete than ad hoc decisions made behind closed doors. But until our electoral system is changes, I think that a party needs to have at least one Member of Parliament. That's the ultimate sign of credibility our system bestows on parties. Like the Bloc or not, a not insignificant number of people in Quebec ridings continues to send MPs to Ottawa to represent them. Until the Greens can pull that off, without the bully pulpit of a televised national leaders debate, they should be kept out.

    • Why just one member of parliament to get into the debate? That seems like a very low threshhold.

      • It's certainly higher, and significantly more challenging a benchmark to achieve, than Coyne's "The Greens are more popular than any of the other fringe parties" approach. Our electoral system is single member plurality, so I see a strong rationale in linking the appearance at a national leaders debate to that of the parties eligible to being at the table.

    • If having at least one seat in the House is the criterion for inclusion in the debates, I look forward to seeing how the Helena Guergis party acquits itself in the televised exhanges. I believe she now calls herself an Independent Conservative.

    • Let's say the riding of Bountiful, BC (for argument's sake) gets a four-way split and sends the member from the Multiple Wives Party with say 29% of the vote, representing a total of maybe 30,000 votes. He (presumably it would be a 'he') gets to attend the debate but not Elizabeth May and her 1 million votes?

      Strangely, like you, I'm not keen on May being at the table as it's too crowded already- the format barely works with three candidates, let alone four or five. Yours is a good idea, but does suffer from that one flaw.

  9. I would love to see a series of debates then put them on TV as a canadian idol reality show where you coutd text in votes then the bottom 2 duke it out and so on until you have a winner !!! then just skip the election and save us going to the polls all the time – I am being sarcastic of course just in case your kind of dense or a liberal and didn't get it !

  10. oops forgot – we already have rules that have been posted every election for years now – no seat in House no debate case closed! get a seat in the House and get a seat at the debate – where is the problem here?

    • What he said. I don't understand why the Greens keep complaining about this, as though the established rule – have at least one seat in the Commons – had never been explained to them. Concentrate your efforts and win one seat; if you can't do that, your grounds for complaint are modest.

    • Whose rules? It's the media consortium who hatched the rules of inclusion this time, behind closed doors.

    • Sorry, where have these rules been posted? And if those are the rules, why was May initially excluded in 2008 despite there being a Green MP in the House of Commons?

  11. A debate that includes Duceppe but not May is just plain wrong.

  12. Andrew, loved the analogy!

    The more the merrier, let her in, it's fair!

  13. "Michael Ignatieff persuaded millions of progressives that the Iraq War and enhanced interrogation were good ideas."

    Really? Millions? Did you get that figure from The Almanac of Made-Up Numbers, or did you just pull it out of the wide open spaces in your cranium?

    Or is your sarcasm to subtle for me?

  14. Enter text right here!

  15. "Washington's decision to exempt itself from int'l law…has gained the partial support of people regarded as leading advocates of human rights, such as Michael Ignatieff, chair of the human rights program at Harvard, who supports violations of the Geneva Conventions, and indeed of US law, on "lesser evil" grounds that are justified by his personal sentiments". You know who said this? NOAM CHOMSKY, Failed States, page 54-55, 2006.

    P.S. "millions" is general, not a made up number, and if you know anything about Noam Chomsky, yes, millions of people read his literature.

  16. So he's got your vote then, right?

  17. Why does May need to debate the other leaders? She's not running against them. She's only trying to get one candidate elected in her entire party. Her. She belongs in her local all candidates debate. That's it.

    • To be fair john, the Greens are running candidates in all ridings. They have no hope, but they are trying. (It is a little like me when I golf)

    • Gee and to think I'll be out till midnight pounding signs in the dark on a mere lark! Funny I though I was actually trying.

      The truth is much of the local media is as fair as the consortium refusing to cover our nominations or mention policy. When we do get press its over crap like this rather than what really matters

      While I appreciate the Andrew's support on this one issue it would be nice if any media outlet in Canada would actually explain Green policy and ask us questions about it rather than fixating on what Harper won't answer.

      Is that really too much to ask Mr Coyne?

  18. Would the actual people who make up the consortium please stand up and take questions? Hiding behind your station and not revealing your identity shows cowardess. And cowards shouldn't be allowed to decide for Canadians and the leaders what should and shouldn't be televised.

  19. Good analogy except people actually buy Toyotas.

    • Huh? The Green vote is comparable in size to the Bloc vote. The Bloc vote is more concentrated, and therefore earns seats. That doesn't mean they have more of a right to be in the debate.

      The Greens have far, far, far more right to be in the English debate than the Bloc does. Most who watch the English debate can't even vote for the Bloc, and those who COULD vote for the Bloc probably won't. So what's Duceppe doing there? Nobody who speaks English cares about him.

  20. I would like to see the decision-makers from this shaddowy broadcast consortium interviewed in the media please. Why aren't they being made to defend their decisions publicly?

    They claim their decision was based on sound journalistic principals but I'm trying to figure out what principals those could possibly be.

    Provide Canadians with the information they need to make sense of their world? Nope. I think the Green perspective would be important to that.

    Serve as a watchdog of those in power? Nope. Not with fewer opposition parties in the debates.

    On the other hand, I don't see anything in the j-school texts about censorship or playing god.

    Helping to distill important information from unimportant informtion, perhaps, but any journalist who thinks the Greens aren't important to Canadians has completely lost touch with the people s/he is supposed to be serving.

    Time to stop watching TV news, I guess.