The Droz Report


It's not easy being May

For the Green Party's Elizabeth May, it's debate-a-vu all over again

By Geoffrey Dow
Managing Editor, True North Perspective
Originally published at Edifice Rex Online
Geoffrey Dow is blogging the Canadian election at Edifice Rex Online. Each week for the duration, True North Perspective will present the best of his previous week's columns.

Photo by The Phantom Photographer; image manipulation by Geoffrey Dow.
Photo by The Phantom Photographer

Tuesday was a good news/bad news sort of day for the Green Party.

On the one hand, Elizabeth May's band of political upstarts lost their bid to have the Federal Court make an emergency ruling giving her a seat at the table for next week's televised leaders' debates.

On the other hand, if the results of a poll commissioned by the Globe and Mail are to be believed, a significant majority of Canadians either "strongly" or "somewhat" support her presence at the boys' table.

Now May is calling for a boycott of next week's debates by the other party leaders and hoping for a repeat of 2008, when an enormous public outcry more or less forced the broadcasting consortium to let her in (and, don't forget, made both Jack Layton and Stephen Harper rescind their threats to withdraw should she be permitted to take part).

But should the Green Party have a seat at the table? After all, they've never elected a Member to the House of Commons and the party managed only 6.77% of the popular vote last time out.

Elizabeth May, on the outside, looking in.
Elizabeth May: Girl not wanted on boys trip to the polls?

(Bias alert! I took the CBC's VoteCompass survey late last week, which purports to match a participant's answers with the federal party whose platform most closely matches them. My result showed me in the Green camp, with the NDP and the Bloc as not-so-distant outriders. (How this is supposed to work when the parties have not fully released their platforms, I don't know.)

So there I am, apparently: a Green.

But leaning Green doesn't by itself mean I think the Green Party — one with still quite limited public support and without a single seat in Parliament — should be treated as a major party.

As I understand the current "rules as set by the secretive bunch behind the so-called broadcasting consortium which runs the leaders' debates, the criteria for inclusion are simple and, on the surface, pretty reasonable: a party must have at least one sitting member in the House of Commons when the election is called.

Put that way, having a sitting Member of Parliament doesn't seem like such a high hurdle — the old Reform Party didn't need to get their leader into a federal debate in order to elect Members to the House of Commons. So why change the rules for the the Greens? (Of course, the Reform Party started out as, and in fact remained, a mostly regional party, which meant it had very high levels of support in Alberta and other parts of the west, and so — much like the Bloc Québecois — could elect Members of Parliament without much in the way of national support.)

May made the case herself in a recent op-ed piece for the Globe and Mail. Her argument included the following points.

  • That precedent is on the Green's side; May participated in 2008 and any changes since then only strengthen her claim to an invitation this time around;
  • that Canadians were "outraged" in 2008, when May was first denied an invitation;
  • that the Greens are running candidates in all 308 ridings;
  • that the Greens have the support of nearly one in ten voters;
  • that the Greens were the only party to increase the actual number of votes they received in the last election; and
  • that most Canadians still seem to believe the Greens should be heard, even if most of those people have no intention of voting for that Party.

May's argument isn't that strong on a formal level, and the rule that participating parties should have at least a single seat in Parliament don't seem especially arbitrary. Most of May's points boil to to fairness, a singularly mushy concept.

However, the consortium's argument that a seat in Parliament be the defining criteria does, in practical fact, seem pretty arbitrary. It's not like making an exception to that rule would result in a flood of small parties joining the Greens in a flood. According to Wikipedia, the Greens out-polled the next closest party (Christian Heritage) by 911,138 votes, and ran candidates in 303 ridings as compared to the latter's 59.

And a very strong argument can be made that in a first-past-the-post electoral system, for a party with national, rather than merely regional aspirations, getting even one seat actually is an unreasonable goal to set.

They should have been and I've signed their petition to that effect.

I think some sort of point system would be a reasonable way to fix the situation; it would have the added benefit of making the selection criteria themselves a hell of a lot more transparent than the Vatican-like smoke signals we get from the "consortium" nowadays.

How about, if a party meets two out of the following three criteria, they're in?

  1. One or more seats in the House of Commons?
  2. Over five percent of the popular vote in the previous election?
  3. Running candidates in over 90 per cent of the country's ridings?

What do you think? Should the Greens play by the rules as they are now? Are there any rules now, or is the consortium making things up as they go along? Click here to vote in the first Edifice Rex Poll, or use the link at the top right of this page, then comment away!

Add new comment