Watching the Maclean’s leaders’ debate, at least three things became perfectly clear.
- It is an egregious affront to Canadian democracy to exclude Green party leader Elizabeth May from any leaders’ debate in this election campaign.
- Her uniquely definitive positions on many issues expose and challenge the other leaders’ equivocations, as they also offer voters’ policy options and democratic choices that will be willfully diminished in her absence.
- All of the other leaders have good reason to both fear and welcome May’s participation in future debates, but none of those partisan reasons have the public interest at heart.
Sadly, as we all know, May has been excluded from the September 17 Globe and Mail leaders’ debate on the economy. It is being hosted in partnership with CPAC (Cable Public Affairs Channel) and Google Canada (to be distributed through YouTube).
Ditto for the September 28 Munk leaders’ debate on foreign policy, which as of this writing, only Harper has confirmed he will attend.
All of those organizations should be ashamed of themselves. Especially Canada’s self-professed “paper of record,” which has relied on a bogus rationale to exclude May in its zeal for a three-way political slugfest to earn a shot at the prime minister’s title.
The Globe ostensibly based its criteria for participation in its leaders’ debate on the parties that hold official status in the House of Commons. That shut out the Green party, the Bloc Quebecois, and the Forces et Democratie, which each only have two seats.
What a crock.
Only May’s party is fielding a national slate of candidates, including the 122 individuals who have already been nominated to vie for seats in every province and territory, except in the Northwest Territories.
Only the Green party commands a significant proportion of popular voter support across Canada, which Éric Grenier’s average of current polls for CBC’s Poll Tracker now suggests is 4.7 percent nationwide and 7.9 percent in British Columbia.
It is the only excluded party that is even ardently demanding to be included in the leaders’ debates held outside of Quebec.
The Globe could have just as easily insisted that its participants must be parties that are represented in Parliament and that are bona fide national contenders—a far more reasonable position than the position it adopted.
Only May’s Greens are a serious force for seismic political change that long ago made its mark via similar movements in European parliaments, in South American countries, in Australia and New Zealand, and in several developing nations. Only the Green party’s provincial and local government namesakes have also won seats at all levels of government in Canada.
Apparently, none of that matters to the Globe and Mail—or to the other parties that have accepted its invite without any real regard for the public interest in also including May.
The Globe’s arbitrarily imposed grounds for exclusion is anathema to informed decision-making.
It amounts to “principle-based” muzzling of a serious national contender that no media or its partners, nor any of Canada’s political parties should propagate.
It is a position that must be reversed. Canadians deserve better, regardless of which party they ultimately decide to support.
Which is why it is even more troubling to see most of the mainstream media effectively reinforcing the Globe and Mail’s untenable position, by dint of their silence and their implied acceptance of its injurious dictate.
The major media’s so-called Broadcast Consortium failed to pressure Stephen Harper—and now it also appears, Tom Mulcair—into participating in its intended televised debates. Its members, CBC, Radio Canada, CTV, and Shaw/Global, are understandably ticked that they did not get their anticipated way.
The broadcasters badly underestimated Team Harper’s resolve to avoid their forums. They wrongly assumed that the Conservatives would not have the moxie or temerity to turn them down. They likely also felt that any party would have to have a death wish to decline their “offer” that they confidently assumed could not be refused.
What were they thinking?
The national media has grown accustomed to dancing to Harper’s tune. Over the years, it has grudgingly acceded to his applied rules for engagement, which have hardly hurt his party at election time.
The broadcasters should have anticipated that Harper’s campaign might embrace the old “divide and conquer” strategy to avoid their forums. They should have worked with the Globe and others to minimize the potential for them to be used as Harper’s unwitting ally in justifying his rejection of their offer, rightly banking on Mulcair to follow suit.
The broadcasters also misjudged Mulcair. As the current front-runner, he is politically smart to hook his participation in any debates to Harper’s, however much the networks might have been counting on his participation in their debates to ultimately force Harper to fold.
Regardless, it is appalling that the major television and radio broadcasters are not leading the editorial charge to force both the Globe and Munk to allow May to participate in their debates.
They may be the only debates that most Canadians will ever get a chance to hear or watch first hand.
May has amply demonstrated that she deserves to stand next to the three men in the Globe’s debate. She has proved that she is no “one hit wonder,” whose only merit is her party’s concern with environmental issues.
On the contrary, May’s performance in the Maclean's debate made it abundantly clear that she can pack an economic punch, backed by hard-hitting facts, artfully articulated positions, and deftly deployed criticisms of her opponents’ policies and platitudes.
Her views on foreign policy are equally forceful, valid, and distinctive, however misguided or naïve some may consider the Green party’s positions on those or other issues to be.
Moreover, May has also proved that her participation stands to change the entire tenor and content of any debate that might take place—and decidedly for the better.
Set aside that, as the only woman in the field, she alone stands to temper her competitors’ macho tussle of ideas and insults with some much-needed gender balance and a unique perspective.
Why the Globe is prepared to discount that imperative is as mystifying as it is glaringly inexcusable.
The larger benefit of May’s involvement is the option for change and democratic representation that her party stands to offer Canadians. It is an option that will be aided by her participation in the debates and that will be unconscionably suppressed if she is excluded.
Whatever the practical challenges may be in translating the Green party’s ideas into action and its often-lofty positions into workable policies, May’s views are important for another less obvious reason.
They remind us all that idealism still matters in politics.
Her positions are grounded in unyielding beliefs and values of what is right and what is wrong. They are often anything but “political” in the typical partisan sense, insofar as they tend to marginalize her own voter support base, as they also transcend party lines and their associated ideologies.
The trouble with being on the cusp of power—as the NDP now is, in lockstep with the Liberals and Conservatives—is that the power game becomes the only thing that really matters.
Ideals get thrown out the window when push comes to shove in the battle to play it safe with positions that always have the polls as their main object of focus.
The last place you want to be, if you want to be the last person left standing, is out on a ledge like May, defending your ideals with an uncompromising commitment to stand fast for right over wrong, come what may.
The parties and their leaders all tend to speak in code to their prospective supporters by saying enough to win them over and by saying nothing that is not open to constructive interpretation in wooing any target audience.
This is the real value of May’s involvement. She is inclined to say exactly what she means, as if it really matters.
And some of what she says speaks directly to voters like me, who long to hear politicians stake their claim in ideals that are more concerned with right and wrong than with the narrow confines of their orthodox ideologies.
May’s voice profoundly matters on issues that Mulcair and Trudeau are reluctant to address without beating around the bush. Her voice matters on concerns that Harper simply dismisses as the misguided musings of the lunatic fringe.
I do not subscribe to much of what the Green party says or offers, and I am among the many voters who are still weighing their choices on who to vote for. As one of her constituents, I applaud her public service and her unique contributions in Parliament and in lending expression to positions that others shy from adopting.
Federally and provincially, I love the Green party’s earnest commitment to put ideas on the table, as Andrew Weaver has so expertly done in the B.C. legislature. Those ideas serve to broaden and frame informed political discussion, as they also oblige the other parties to respond in ways that help us to all better understand their positions and bottom lines.
Having read and thought a lot about energy issues, climate change, sustainable development, and many other issues that I was obliged to confront in my past roles in politics and government, I find myself alienated from the party whose fiscal and economic policies I am still inclined to support.
The NDP and Liberals speak to many of those concerns, yet too often with ambivalence and loaded words that deliberately dilute their own ostensible ideals.
It is what parties do to get elected, as I know so well. They are ever fearful that anything they say may be used against them in the unforgiving court of partisan opinion.
But that, too, is wrong. And increasingly, I would suggest, it is politically unwise.
What voters really want is to believe in leaders and candidates who are transparent, decisive, and consistent in their positions, demonstrably driven by discernible ideals and values.
Yes, many of them want to dump Harper and his government and they are looking for the best vehicle to do that.
But many more of those voters across the political spectrum are also looking for options that are not blindly subservient to either partisan loyalties, or to vague ideologies that purport to label them all as “conservatives,” “liberals,” or “social democrats.”
Those swing voters are looking to support a leader, party, and local candidate that clearly and passionately articulates their ideals and values on the issues that matter to them most. The Green party has much to offer in that regard that should be encouraged, not frustrated, by the likes of the Globe and Mail.
For many of us, the differences between the three major parties on most economic and fiscal issues are negligible. Not so on most environmental and social issues.
Much as I like what Mulcair has to say about environmental assessment processes, climate change, sustainable development, and other “green” issues, I just wish he would be as clear as May is on many of those concerns.
The real difference between her and Mulcair or Trudeau is that she stakes her positions on firm ideals of what she perceives as right and wrong.
For example, on the issue of bitumen exports, Mulcair maintains, “Getting our resources to market is critical. But Mr. Harper’s gotten the balance wrong.” Trudeau says, “the job of the Prime Minister is to get those resources to market. And in the 21st century that means being smart and responsible about the environment.”
Both leaders would have us believe whatever we chose to hear by their focus-tested double-speak.
May is unequivocal.
She simply asserts that it is just wrong to support the Kinder Morgan pipeline project. Period. Because it is wrong to increase heavy oil tanker traffic in the Georgia Strait by as much as 700 percent. Because it is wrong to turn Metro Vancouver into a major oil export hub.
Because it is wrong to pretend that you are somehow against increasing oil sands exports and their related carbon emissions, while also suggesting that you may be persuaded otherwise. For May, no payoff in Canadian jobs is great enough to warrant the risk or damage. No “sound science” or proper environmental assessment process can ever justify projects that we should all intuitively know do not make sense.
Adrian Dix was right to oppose the Kinder Morgan project, which I am delighted to see that his party has now once again formally opposed in its recent submission to the National Energy Board.
Dix may have lost his party some votes in how he announced his “Kinder surprise,” which flew in the face of his previous “wait for the process to unfold” position. But his real mistake was not in adopting that position. Rather, it was in not driving it clearly, consistently, and forcefully enough to win the support that he might have garnered as a matter of “right and wrong.”
Mulcair and Trudeau are both careful not to box themselves into a corner that their opponents might exploit in trying to characterize them as “anti-jobs”. That leaves May, standing alone, standing up “loud and proud,” on principle.
She can count me among those who only wish that Mulcair and Trudeau would also stand on principle on so many issues that beg to be championed with an idealist’s conviction.
It is just wrong to locate major new LNG facilities in the heart of Vancouver, on Tilbury Island, and in Howe Sound, where tankers would travel so close to major population centres. Nothing can convince me that those proposed facilities would ever be worth their risk to human health and safety, or to our marine habitats.
I sometimes feel like screaming at Mulcair, "just say that—like May does—because it is the right thing to do. You may be surprised at who might be willing to vote for you."
In this day and age, it is just wrong to dance around the issue of trophy hunting and the destruction of lives it infers for grizzly bears and for other precious species that are only hunted for human vanity.
That’s just wrong. Say it. And vow to change it, whatever the gun and hunting crowd might think in taking its cue from America’s National Rifle Association and its powerful lobbyists.
It is wrong to pay lip service to issues like climate action, the negative impact on affordable housing of untenable foreign investment, mandatory labeling of genetically modified organisms and foods, and so many other important issues that all get short shrift to the extent that leaders stand on their partisan rhetoric instead of standing up firmly for their ideals.
How ironic it is, then, that the National Post's knock against Mulcair in his new autobiography, Strength of Conviction, is that "The NDP leader — now surging in the polls and a plausible contender for Prime Minister — is always right. Every clash is chalked up to his unwillingness to bend in the face of inviolable principle." I only wish he would do more to warrant that attribute with the clarity of conviction, purpose, and policy that May is doing her best to push him to adopt in respect of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project and other issues in her "wheel house."
All of that aside, there is yet another reason why Harper and even Mulcair and Trudeau should be advocating for May’s involvement in any future leaders’ debates.
It is not just the right thing to do; it is also the right political thing to do, for the very reasons that all of the leaders bizarrely fear her participation.
Harper should want May in the debates, if only to increase her profile and to also elevate the Green party candidates, in his efforts to split the anyone-but-Harper vote and to win more seats. Doesn’t mean it will work or should happen. Far from it. But his strategic political interest is obvious.
For their part, Mulcair and Trudeau should both welcome May in the debates for the damage that she ultimately stands to inflict on Harper. Her pointed jabs hurt him to the core and only strengthen their argument for change.
What is more important? Driving that ballot question centered on the need for change, or worrying about being upstaged by someone who is also decidely vulnerable on so many fronts?
Mulcair, in particular, should view May’s participation as a chance to critique her party’s platform, to expose its obvious weaknesses and its less worthy candidates, and to outshine her as the Left’s most passionate and capable champion, something that Trudeau can never hope to be.
Trudeau should want May in the debates to help him marginalize the NDP as being too close to the Green party on too many issues that are out-of-step with his target voter base. He should want her to help him strengthen his pitch to swing voters who might be thinking of switching from the Tories to the Greens as an expression of protest, or in sympathy with any of their positions.
In short, all of the leaders have good reason to welcome and fear May’s involvement, which is itself yet another reason that makes a mockery of her supposed “irrelevance.” The Globe should be the first to really get that.
If any of her three opponents felt strongly enough about their abilities, they would insist on her participation as a precondition for their own participation in any future debates. Harper, especially, would win lots of public support for adopting that position, mirroring Mulcair’s position on his own involvement.
What about the rest of us?
Are we prepared to blithely tolerate the Globe’s and Munk’s decisions? After all, we are the ones who are most seriously compromised by their plans for debates that only include the men who would be King.
Back in 1991, the CBC in British Columbia also tried that tact, in its failed attempt to exclude Gordon Wilson from the provincial leaders’ debate. As the Socreds’ campaign research director at the time, I witnessed that debacle firsthand.
We all remember what happened. Wilson and his supporters picketed the CBC. After getting tons of exposure from BCTV and other media outlets, the Mother Corporation was forced to capitulate. Wilson had his defining moment and the rest, as he went on to show, was history.
The message for May is obvious.
You cannot take this affront to you and your party lying down.
You must turn the heat up on the Globe and Mail, in particular, using your considerable public relations skills and your numbers to shame the mainstream media into coming to your defense, in the name of fairness and democracy.
The message for the rest of us is equally apparent. If we really want to make a difference, indifference is not an option.
We must stand up for what we know is right, and against what we know is wrong.
We can do that through the power of free expression—saying and showing what we mean—with our words, with our actions, and through our paid subscriptions.
The Globe has four weeks yet to change its mind.
Let’s hope it can be suitably persuaded and that at least one of the three leaders who have accepted its debate offer will make their participation contingent on May's involvement.