May Excluded from Two Federal Leaders’ Debates

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The hornet’s nest kicked over by the Conservative Party opening up multiple bidders for leaders’ debates in the upcoming election has had at least one positive effect for Stephen Harper, Green Party leader Elizabeth May has been excluded from at least two debates now, the one hosted by the Globe and Mail and the other a foreign-policy debate hosted by Munk Debates.

The Green Party of Canada is kicking up a fuss this week following the announcement that that their leader May will not be invited to take part in two key election debates. “The decision to exclude Elizabeth May from the Globe and Mail and Munk debates is unbelievable given that these two institutions proclaim to be fair, open, and unbiased,” said Green Party Director of Communications Julian Morelli in a statement. “This is clearly not the case and Canadians need to know the facts.”

What May and the Greens are fuming about is the apparent double standard. May has been invited to participate in the Rogers/Macleans debate, as well as the English and French debates being staged by the consortium of national broadcasters – CBC, CTV and Global. Of course, the Conservative Party has repeatedly stated that Stephen Harper will not participate in the consortium debates.

For many, this is another sign that an independent body needs to be established in order to achieve a universality of rules governing debates and to ensure fairness for all major national parties. The Globe and Munk are drawing a line that says only those leaders whose parties have “official party status” can participate, meaning 12 seats or more in the House of Commons. The Green Party, Bloc Quebecois and Forces et Démocratie have two apiece.

Munk Debates chairman Rudyard Griffiths said in an interview that “We really struggled with this,” but that hosting May, Gilles Duceppe, and Jean-François Fortin along with Harper, Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau would “unduly limit our ability to hold a substantive debate.” Similarly, the Globe’s vice-president of marketing Sean Humphrey, said that their debate, which will be streamed on the paper’s website and YouTube from Calgary, “will lead to focused discussion on the Canadian economy,” by inviting only the leaders of the three official parties.

“We are not begging to be in these debates, nor should we have to,” added Green staffer Morelli. “This is about allowing all Canadians to hear the views from all major party leaders in an unscripted format – Canadians want a fair and open debate.”

May’s track record of being allow to participate in Federal leaders’ debates has been spotty. With the endorsement of Stephane Dion she was invited the 2008 debates, but she was then skipped over again for 2011. The consortium’s own record on the standards by which they let leaders into debates is inconsistent. In 1997, both the leader of the NDP and the leader of the PCs were allowed to take part in the debate despite having 9 and 2 seats respectively.

The question will now become whether the great experiment with the debate format in this coming election will prompt the creation of new rules, or further anarchy.

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