I’m not saying that Tory supporters are a craven bunch of girlie-men, but one might get that impression from reading some of the comments desperately attempting to rationalize why Green Party leader Elizabeth May shouldn’t be allowed to participate in any televised election debates. Not of course that it’s their decision to make, or any of ours for that matter. Far from it.
Which political voices will be heard by the public in these forums is decided by an exclusive group of media representatives known as The Broadcast Consortium, which is made up of top executives from the major TV networks, the mainstream press (currently manifested in the form of CanWest Global’s Leonard Asper, I believe) and officials from self-serving organizations such as the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters. No public input is sought or desired — what do you think this is, a democracy or something?
There are no official government laws, rules, or minimum requirements to regulate participation in the nationally televised debates and the decisions made by the group are, at best, arbitrary in nature. For example, it’s been contended that a party must have a national slate of candidates to be included, but for obvious reasons this has never been the case with the Bloc (and in fact won’t be for the Liberals this time around either). An exception to the national “rule” was also made in the past for the Reform Party. Another supposed criterion is that each leader included must have at least one elected Member of Parliament, a sort of Catch-22 barrier that’s been insurmountable for Greens up until now.
With disgraced MP Blair Wilson having been booted from the Liberal caucus for “financial irregularities” in the last election in addition to some rather sordid personal difficulties, now hitching his wagon to the Greens, May has her first elected MP, albeit one who wasn’t put in that position under her banner. Nevertheless, there’s a certain amount of justice in it so the argument goes given that the party received 660,000 votes or 4.5 percent of the popular vote in the last election and is currently polling about 8 percent of likely voters.
Tory spokesprick Kory Teneycke scoffed at the notion of including May in the debates. “Our view is there should only be one Liberal candidate in the leaders’ debate,” he said. That remarkably dumb comment encapsulating the flimsy rationale of the Tories on this issue more than satisfied the apes here and here, but then we’ve long since given up being surprised at such things. Whether the “Broadcast Consortium” will be as easily gulled by such unserious clowning is another question that only time will tell. In the meanwhile, it might be more useful to ask whether these so-called “debates” actually matter at the end of the day and whether it’s reasonable to allow a cabal of private interests to decide who can fully participate in our political discourse on a national stage and to determine the particular format those discussions should take.
Personally, I’d like to see May included, for reasons of the anticipated entertainment value, but more seriously, as Chantal Hébert suggested in the past, of having the Greens subjected to some of the scrutiny afforded their more established competition.