Green leader allowed into debates, networks confirm

Green Leader Elizabeth May will be allowed to take part in the federal leaders' debates, Canada's networks confirmed on Wednesday.
Green Leader Elizabeth May says she's thankful Canadians protested on her behalf. ((Canadian Press))

Green Leader Elizabeth May will be allowed into the federal leaders' debates, Canada's main broadcasters confirmed late Wednesday afternoon.

The networks, including the CBC, had originally ruled on Monday that May could not participate because three of Canada's parties were opposed to her inclusion.

The broadcasters changed course after Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Jack Layton indicated earlier Wednesday that they no longer oppose May's participation in the debates on Oct. 1 and Oct. 2.

May said she was happy the networks' original decision was reversed.

"The important thing is that we have the opportunity for a full and fair exchange of views," she told CBC News. "I'm so grateful to Canadians for protesting loudly enough that we've seen this change.

"I'm not the only winner today — everybody wins."

May, in an interview earlier Wednesday, said tens of thousands of Canadians came to her defence, with some staging protests or telephoning the TV networks in charge of the debates. May said the events of the last few days prove that "democracy does not happen behind closed doors."

"When you get engaged, you can change the world, and I intend to do that in the debates," she said.

Worried May would side with Dion

When the Conservatives and NDP were opposing May's inclusion in the debate earlier this week, they cited a deal she struck with Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion, in which they agreed not to run candidates against each other in their respective Nova Scotia and Quebec ridings.

Harper and Layton contended that including May would be tantamount to permitting two Liberal candidates into the debate because May has repeatedly expressed her preference for Dion over Harper as prime minister.

Harper said her inclusion would be "unfair," and he said he strongly believed May would endorse the Liberal party before the campaign was over. May has scoffed at the charge.

After the NDP and the Conservatives expressed their concerns, the NDP in particular faced a public outcry in internet circles from many self-proclaimed New Democrats.

Layton said debate issue became a 'distraction'

Layton, who faced protesters at an Ontario campaign event on Wednesday, conceded the issue had become a "distraction," and said he did not want to continue "debating about the debate" until the election.

"I have only one condition for this debate, and that is that the prime minister is there, because I want to debate the issues with him," Layton said.

Kory Teneycke, Harper's director of communications, confirmed Harper had also changed his mind, telling reporters that while the Conservatives still objected to May's participation on principle, he would no longer oppose May's inclusion.

"We don't think she should be there, but if the NDP have decided they're changing their position, we will not stand alone," he said.

In an interview with CBC News, Tory campaign co-chairman David Emerson said the reversal was a case of the prime minister "reacting to changing circumstances."

"I think he made the right decision," Emerson said. "The view has been that Elizabeth May is not exactly independent of the Liberal party."

Dion reiterates support for May

Speaking Wednesday, Dion reiterated his support for May to be allowed to participate and accused the two party leaders of "hiding themselves behind the consortium."

"She should be there, period," Dion said during a campaign appearance in Mississauga, Ont. "Not only are they not inclusive, but they don't have the courage to explain their positions."

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe, who did not threaten to boycott the debates despite his party's opposition to May's participation, said Wednesday he believes the Tories changed their position because "they felt the pressure."

"Mr. Harper was saying he wasn't going to be there if she was there, then he changed his mind," Duceppe told reporters outside Montreal. "It's not the first time he's changing his mind."

Traditionally, 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.

In the December 2005 debates that preceded the 2006 election, Jim Harris — then leader of the Green party — was excluded because his party had no seats in the House of Commons.

The election is Oct. 14.