Leaders Debates Goes Legal

If you haven’t noticed by now, we’re in (yet another) Federal election. The leaders of the four major parties are currently scheduled for a televised debate on April 12 (English) and 14 (French).

But what about the fifth party, the Green Party, which received almost as many votes in the 2008 election as the Bloc Quebecois? Because the Green Party’s 8% of the popular vote is spread across Canada, rather than concentrated in a single province, they did not receive a single seat, while the Bloc won 49 seats.

Given the relative popularity of the Green Party, its leader, Elizabeth May, has participated in election debates since 2008 when a groundswell of public support overturned her exclusion. This year, the Broadcast Consortium has decided to only include those parties with an existing seat. Chairman of the Consortium, Troy Reeb, also vice-president for Shaw Media, indicated that popular support will not change their decision this time,

Our decision is final and the decision is unanimous. It will not be reconsidered.

Despite Reeb’s comments, the Green Party is encouraging supporters to contact media broadcasters and sign petitions. Over 28,000 Canadians have apparently signed the petition, and May has received multi-partisan support from numerous quarters.

May expressed the basis for her misgivings in a blog post on March 30, 2011,

How can a group of five television executives decide to exclude a party running in 308 ridings when they include a party that only runs candidates in Quebec? How can debates, a critical part of the democratic process, operate in such a high-handed and arbitrary fashion? How can a party with the support of one in ten Canadians be excluded? And most fundamentally, how can TV executives tell Canadians that a vote for Green candidates is not a viable vote?

She has now turned to the courts and will appear on Tuesday morning at the Federal Court, where they will decide whether to hear her application. Toronto lawyer, math professor and social activist, Peter Rosenthal, is representing May.

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