The Debates Debacle

I am still coping with a sense of profound disbelief that such an undemocratic thing could happen in Canada. I like to think (but who can know for sure?) that my shock is less to do with the fact that I was directly disadvantaged by the decision of the media consortium and more to do with how it offends my sense of fairness. I like to think that my sense that part of Canadian democracy just died a little more, would be identical if I were not leader of the Green Party. As a citizen not seeking elected office, I hope I would have been equally concerned.

Certainly many Canadians from a non-partisan position have voiced their support. Many wrote to tell me they felt I had won the debate in 2008. Canadians of all stripes and backgrounds have sent very heartening messages of support. Two former Prime Ministers (the Rt. Hon Joe Clark and Rt. Hon Paul Martin) both have spoken out to decry the decision. So, too, has the former head of Elections Canada, Jean Pierre Kingsley. Kingsley, quite rightly, pointed out that with 7% of the vote in 2008, and running 308 candidates across Canada, in no other country could he imagine us being excluded.

Margaret Atwood and Farley Mowat expressed their outrage, but the so-called Consortium would not budge. Veterans activist Sean Bruyea wrote to express his anger that after fighting for democracy over-seas, veterans return to Canada to find it dwindling at home. Ron Wright, author of Short History of Progress, among other books, wrote a statement we included in our appeal to the Federal Court:

“Democracies are rare in history; they are easily hijacked by tyrants, and lost by neglect.  Harper has got away with far too much already.  Many Canadians have little idea of the damage he has done to our constitution and our country, though Elizabeth May has certainly been keeping score.  Now media barons are trying to shut her out of the campaign debates.  This decision is an outrage.  All Canadians, whether Green or not, are being cheated.  May’s clear and thoughtful voice must be heard.”

And here we are, days after the debates. The doors stayed barred. The consortium (CBC, CTV, TVA, Global and Radio Canada) wrote to those who complained (or at least CBC did) that the decision was approved in advance by the four old line parties. The Consortium’s lawyer argued in court that if I were included, the other party leaders might not participate and then there would be no debate at all. I don’t think the other leaders wanted me there either. They issued strong protestations and got the French debate moved to accommodate the Stanley Cup play-offs. They washed their hands of the Consortium’s decision to exclude the Greens, which they were all too happy to hide behind.

All the other parties and the national media have decided that the single largest threat to civilization, climate change, is not an issue in this election. In the 2008 federal election campaign, I grew slightly weary of the question, “what’s the point of the Green Party when all the parties are trying to be green?”

In 2011, the question has shifted, “Now that climate change is not an issue, what’s the point of the Green Party?”

Meanwhile, Greens have identified one of the best ways to arrest rising health care costs is by taking on Big Pharma. Twenty per cent of costs are now due to pharmaceuticals and it is the fastest rising portion of our health care expenditures. The magnificent work of the Therapeutics Initiative (TI) at UBC is at risk because Big Pharma is lobbying the BC government to cut its funding. Why? Because this little group of diligent experts has been advising our provincial government with an independent evidence-based assessment of new prescription drugs. There are an estimated five hundred British Columbians alive today because the TI advised that Vioxx would do more harm than good. We need evidence based assessment, a centralized bulk buying agency to eliminate the unsafe prescription drugs and drive down the cost of the ones providing a benefit.

Our agriculture policy takes aim at corporate influence at Agriculture and Agri-food Canada and within the Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). CFIA is responsible for both promotion of Canadian food exports and food safety at home. It is essential that the food safety regulator not have a dual mandate and conflict of interest. We want to protect the family farm, ensure farmers make a decent income on farm, whether organic or not. We cannot allow the Cargills and Maple Leafs to drive food policy.

So, in this election campaign, the Green Party has been sidelined by the media Consortium, removing the risk of any inconvenient truths being voiced at the debates. In the debates, there was no discussion of Libya, Energy policy, First Nations, Fisheries, Pharmaceuticals, Womens’ Rights – the list is long.

The debates debacle was an insult to any and every Canadian who believed our electoral system included a fair process to oversee the televised leaders’ debate. It should be the very last time Canadians allow the ad hoc media executives behind closed door approach to democracy. To vote to ensure that such exclusion cannot happen again, to ensure that the efforts to suppress these truths will not succeed, please allow me to be your voice.