Court won't hear Greens' challenge before debates

A Federal Court judge dealt a blow to Elizabeth May's attempts to force a seat at next week's televised debates, deciding he will not hear the Green Party's challenge before then.

Debates will 'go ahead as planned,' broadcast consortium says

A Federal Court judge will not hear Green Party Leader Elizabeth May's arguments until after next week's televised debates take place without her 3:19

A Federal Court judge will not hear the Green Party's arguments before next week's televised debates, he ruled Tuesday.

The party is fighting to have leader Elizabeth May included in the federal leaders' debates.

The party's lawyer and a lawyer for the broadcast consortium were arguing Tuesday morning whether to rush the case so May has a chance to be heard before the debates happen.

The English-language leaders debate are set for next Tuesday, April 12 in Ottawa. The French-language debate follows on Thursday.

May's response via Twitter was swift:

"Justice denied. Consortium said there is no time to change format Is this about democracy or convenience?" she said.

Green Party lawyer Peter Rosenthal echoed May's comment outside the court in Ottawa.

"I hope the public pressure to include Elizabeth May in these debates continues," Rosenthal told reporters.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, the consortium said the organization of the leaders' debates is "going ahead as planned."

Winnipeg Centre New Democrat candidate Pat Martin supports the court's decision to handle the issue after the election, saying it has already taken up too much attention. Martin said he hopes it's the last he hears from May on the issue.

Party received nearly 1M votes in 2008

The party argued exclusion from the debate relegates it to the fringes, despite garnering nearly 1 million votes. Rosenthal also said the broadcasters have a responsibility to provide equitable coverage and that the broadcast consortium that runs the debates doesn't have clear rules set out about who to include in the debate.

Green Party lawyer Peter Rosenthal, left, talks to the media in Ottawa on Tuesday. Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press
The CRTC enforces equitable coverage during an election campaign, he said. But when considering May's exclusion from the debates, "the totality is extremely inequitable."

Rosenthal argued the CRTC was giving a benefit to the parties the consortium included in the debate, to the detriment of the Green Party. He said he will ask the court to have the CRTC issue clear rules for who is included in the televised debates.

Phil Tunley, a lawyer for the broadcast consortium, said the government and court can't tell the media what to do. Tunley said May created her own urgency by waiting for the election call to plead her case, with the CRTC rule in place since 1995.

Tunley argued a rushed case wouldn't give either side enough time to prepare, or enough time for the judge to consider a case that asked for a complex balance between political party and media rights.

"Getting out a reasonable, thoughtful, considered decision on these complicated matters in hours," isn't possible, Tunley told Judge Marc Nadon.

Green Party spokeswoman Camille Labchuk said the court of public opinion has spoken and voters want May included, pointing to opinion polls that show support for her.

An Angus Reid poll released Tuesday morning showed 62 per cent of Canadians polled want to see the Green Party represented in the debates.

"It's about democracy. It's not about the business interests of broadcast corporations," Labchuk said.

Labchuk says the party will do everything it can to get May into the debates.

The CRTC rules Rosenthal challenged have been in place since 1995, Tunley said.

But May argues the Greens didn't control the timing of their legal challenge.

"Up until March 29, we believed we would be included," she said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.

"The arguments from the consortium hinged on their convenience and the difficulty of changing a format, and failed to address questions of fundamental importance to democracy."