Broadcasters are undemocratic, May says

Canadian broadcasters are trying to keep alternate voices out of the televised leaders debates, and are anti-democratic and elitist, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said Wednesday.
A lighter look at the day's events on the campaign trail. 1:38


  • Networks: Greens leader not invited to TV debates
  • Leader Elizabeth May hiring lawyer to fight case
  • May successfully fought for invite in 2008
  • Greens had no MPs, but running in every riding

Canadian broadcasters are trying to keep alternate voices out of the televised leaders debates, and are anti-democratic and elitist, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said Wednesday.

May said the decision not to allow her in the election debates, which are planned for some time in April, is about shutting out a voice that will talk about climate change, First Nations issues and foreign policy.

"There are issues that will be raised when my voice is in the debates, and there will be issues that will be shut down if my voice is shut down. And that's anti-democratic," May said in Vancouver.

"What the media is essentially saying to the Canadian public is, as journalists, we're telling you who is a serious political party and who isn't. And that is not the role of journalists."

May has hired lawyer Peter Rosenthal to help her fight her case, argue the airways are public, not owned by broadcasters.

May was joined in her opposition to the decision by the man who used to be in charge of Canada's elections.

Jean-Pierre Kingsley, the country's former chief electoral officer, said it's up to the broadcast consortium that runs the debates to make the decision, so there may be no legal recourse — but he says the fact they don't have a sitting MP in the House of Commons doesn't mean the Green Party should be left out of the French- and English-language debates.

"The fact that they didn't get anyone elected is not reflected in the six per cent of the votes that they got," Kingsley told CBC Radio's Kathleen Petty in Ottawa.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May kicks off her national election campaign at Sea Cider Farm and Ciderhouse in Saanichton, near Victoria, B.C., on March 26. (Deddeda Stemler/Canadian Press)
"They don't have six per cent of the House. That's because of the vagaries of our system. And with six per cent of the popular support, I think people should reconsider having Elizabeth May in the leadership [debates]."

May had earlier questioned how a party like the Bloc Québécois — which only fields candidates in Quebec — can be included, but her party, with candidates in each riding, is shut out of the debate.

The broadcast consortium is made up of representatives from CBC, Radio-Canada, CTV, Global and TVA.

Spokesman Marco Dubé confirmed the group decided unanimously that a formal proposal will only be made to the leaders of recognized parties in the House of Commons — Conservative, Liberal, NDP and Bloc Québécois.

"The representation of parties in the House was one important factor, but we're not going to give more information on the other criteria," Dubé said.

"This is a programming decision. The Broadcasting Act is clear: the decision on the leader's debates is a broadcast consortium decision."

The consortium will be presenting proposals on debate formats to the four parties this week, he said.

May was initially excluded from the debates in the 2008 election, but a public outcry forced other party leaders to agree to her participation.

Protesters from the youth wing of the Green Party staged a performance in the lobby of CBC's building in downtown Ottawa to draw attention to the slight.   "Elizabeth May has been unfairly excluded from the leadership debate. And she needs to represent the million Canadian voters who voted Green in the last election," said Jonathan Halasz.   Halasz says one survey showed 77 per cent of Canadians want May in the debate. He says it appears the broadcast consortium is making up rules on the fly.  

Ignatieff wants 1-on-1 debate with Harper

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said he believes May should be included in the debate, but added he'd also like to have a one-on-one debate with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.

The Conservative Party said it would accept the consortium's decision and believes May is "fully capable of arguing her own case."

Meanwhile, NDP campaign spokeswoman Kathleen Monk said that her party is "fine" with May being in the debate and that there should be clear criteria for who is allowed to participate.

"We believe in open debates that are based on consistent and understood rules," Monk said in a statement. "We support consistent criteria that outlines who is included and why.

"If certain leaders are not invited to participate, I think it is reasonable for them to know why."

May is running in the B.C. riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands, just outside Victoria, against Tory Gary Lunn, the Conservative government's minister of state for amateur sport.