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.

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