Greens threaten legal action to join election debate
The Green Party of Canada will go to court if necessary to persuade Canada's broadcast consortium to include leader Elizabeth May in the televised leaders' debates for the federal election due to be called on Sunday.
"There is no democratic debate without the Green Party's voice," said Jim Harris, Campaign Chair and former party leader, at a press conference outside the Toronto court house on Wednesday.
The party has retained Toronto lawyer Peter Rosenthal to represent them in negotiations with the consortium.
"The courts will be used only if the Green Party's strong arguments and public support are rebuffed by the media cartel," said Harris, "However, we will not hesitate to go to the courts to defend democracy in Canada"
Harris also noted that as the only female party leader, May has an additional right to be included in the debates.
In 2003, Rosenthal achieved a major milestone for fringe parties in federal politics. In Figeroa v. Canada, Rosenthal convinced the Supreme Court of Canada to strike down a provision to the Canada Elections Act that had previously required a political party to nominate 50 candidates before receiving certain benefits.
Up until now, the consortium of Canada's largest English and French television networks - CBC-Radio-Canada, CTV, Global Television and TVA - has decided which party leaders would participate in the debates. Though the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) require networks to provide "equitable coverage" to parties, there are no specific criteria on participation in debates.
Harris said that the secretive nature of the selection process is anti-democratic.
"Democracy cannot be defined by a handful of executives meeting behind closed doors."
The Green Party is presently the only party receiving vote-based funding under federal law that was barred from the leader's debates in both the 2004 and 2006 elections.
In both of those elections the party ran candidates in all 308 ridings and in 2006 received more than 664,000 votes. Several polls taken over the last year have shown a rise in the nationwide popularity of the Green Party to a level approaching that of the New Democratic Party (NDP).
One restriction that has been the justification for excluding the Green Party from past debates, that the party has no sitting members in the House of Commons, was overcome when former Independent Blair Wilson joined the party last week.
The Green Party has pointed out to broadcasters that recent polls show 1.9 million Canadians say they will vote Green in the next election and 4 million are considering supporting the Green Party. The most recent Harris-Decima poll found that 77 per cent of voting-age Canadians want to see Elizabeth May in the televised debates. Harris pointed out that the same poll noted that the Bloc Quebecois, which has been included in the leaders debates since it was founded in 1993, has less than half the support across Canada than the Green Party and that it only runs candidates in 75 of Canada's 308 federal ridings.
The Conservatives have made it clear that May won't have a voice in the debates if it's up them.
"You can't have one leader on stage that has already endorsed the candidacy of another and signed an electoral co-operation agreement," said Harper spokesman Dimitri Soudas, referring to a deal reached between May and Dion not to run candidates against each other in their respective ridings.
"When it comes to the debate, they can have May or they can have Dion," he said.
"But they can't have both."
On CTV's Mike Duffy Live, May called that argument "a bunch of nonsense."
She said that Canadian political parties have long had agreements not to run candidates in the riding of the leader of another party.
No one in the Prime Minister's Office, nor the Conservative party, would speculate on whether Harper would boycott the debates, should the consortium decide to include May.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to call a general election later this week for Oct. 14.
With files from The Canadian Press