Monday, April 04, 2011

The Case for Elizabeth May in the Debates

As the 41st Canadian federal election unfolds, one thing that is becoming clear is that the media has managed to make itself one of the main issues in the campaign.

On one front is the issue surrounding the number of questions Prime Minister Stephen Harper is taking at each of his campaign stops: two from the national media in english, one from the national media in french, and another from local media.

The media is resentful of this, and not without cause. No one should blame Harper for wanting to keep control of the amount of time he spends answering questions. But answering a finite number of questions not only frustrates the media, but it focuses media attention away from his party's campaign and toward his own relations with the media. It reduces his party's ability to message.

But the media has its own controversy to handle. The decision to exclude Green Party leader Elizabeth May from the televised leaders' debate has proven to be unpopular in some circles.

This is especially the case within the Green Party itself.

"Fundamentally, we expect to be treated like the other national parties," May complained. "With the support of nearly a million Canadians in the last election, it seems pretty obvious that the Greens deserve a voice at the table."

May has even sworn to take this matter before a court to have the decision overturned -- a rather dubious act, as May cannot force the broadcasting consortium, who decided unanimously to decide only the parties represented in Parliament, to put her on television.

But there are many good reasons to include the Greens. This is only underscored by the recent support May has received from former Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin and former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Joe Clark.

Martin spoke to the need for Canadians to be as well-informed about their electoral options as they can possibly be.

"Canadians are entitled to points of view of all of the valid players and Elizabeth May and the Green party are certainly valid participants," Martin insisted. "In terms of the popular vote, the Green party has demonstrated that there is a strong group of Canadians who are prepared to support that party."

Joe Clark echoed these sentiments, then continued to talk about the importance of democracy.

"The decision to exclude flies in the face of the worldwide demand of democratic citizens for more open-ness and more alternatives," Clark said in a statement. "As education and technology are forcing political systems to open up, this consortium proposes to use its power to limit the choices Canadians can consider."

"There are good arguments to change the format of these debates; there is no justification for an arbitrary decision to shut out a significant and legitimate political party, like the Green Party," Clark added.

There are many reasons to include the Green Party in the televised leaders' debates. Paul Martin and Joe Clark articulate them well.

This author isn't entirely decided on this issue just yet, but one thing is clear: the media cannot expect to complain on one hand that Stephen Harper is restricting their ability to ask him questions, then shut another party out of the debate entirely.


  1. Patrick,
    Must give you kudos on the balanced approach you've taken on this issue. Though we don't often see eye-to-eye, I believe your acknowledgment that there are good and sound arguments for Elizabeth May bodes well for discourse. Ironically, given my preference this elxn41, if I was to take a purely partisan view I would probably prefer she not be included. But that too would be wrong... fairness is fairness. So despite our ideological differences - I am glad to see you on same page (albeit tentative) of taking a considered and reflective approach on the issue.

  2. My mind's not quite made up on this issue... yet. There's a case for including May. But, there's also a case for exluding May, and I'm going to present that case tomorrow.

    Stay tuned.


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