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!

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