the Gauntlet

The return of Elizabeth May

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Well, this will be interesting...

For the first time in Canadian history, the Green Party will be represented in the leaders' debate for the coming federal election, though the decision was not without the usual hand-wringing and realpolitik that develops any time somebody tries to change the balance of power in Canada.

It started on Monday, when the coalition of television stations responsible for the federal leaders' debate announced that two of the party leaders (revealed later to be NDP leader Jack Layton and Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper) were planning on boycotting the event if the Green Party's Elizabeth May was allowed to attend. Harper was especially vocal, arguing that May's presence would be synonymous to having the Liberals represented twice. A series of online protests emerged, with Layton's own party members blasting him on his Facebook profile for the decision. Whether due to public pressure or just bad press, both of the offending leaders changed their stances-- first Layton and then Harper-- and the coalition has ruled to allow her in.

While an appearance at one debate may not seem terribly newsworthy, the leaders' debates are among the most important and influential events in the entire election race. Many Canadians form their opinions of who should lead the country as a result of the debates-- so much so that many partly attribute the rise of the Reform Party in the mid '90s to that party's inclusion in them. Before Deborah Grey won a seat in a byelection in a small riding outside Edmonton, the Reform Party was considered a fringe party at best. Shortly after, Preston Manning was allowed to appear at the leaders' debate and the Reform won 52 seats. Four years later, they replaced the Bloc Quebecois as the official opposition. In a sense, the leaders' debate is what separates "real" political parties from the fringe parties. The elevation of the Reform Party was one reason why it suddenly became a viable choice for Canadians.

The Green Party was prevented from attending debates last election because they lacked a seat in the House of Parliament, however, with Member of Parliament Blair Wilson's recent switch from the Liberal Party, it is now against the public interest to exclude them from the debate. Even before this, it would be dishonest to say the Greens were fringe. Ever since Jim Harris led the party in the 2004 election, they have fielded candidates in every single Canadian riding. Comparatively, the Bloc, which has been included in the debates since 1993, fields only 74 candidates an election due to its separatist mandate. Each leaders' debate, the entirety of English-speaking Canada must listen to Gilles Duceppe for the same length that they listen to candidates they can actually vote for. The Greens often receive somewhere between four and five per cent of the popular vote-- attracting over half a million votes last election-- but those voters receive no representation at all.

Perhaps it's because the Green perennially face the same question election after election: "Aren't you the same as the Marijuana Party?" Hopefully May's inclusion in the debate will answer this question once and for all.

Allowing Elizabeth May to speak means that Canadians now have a socially progressive, fiscally responsible, pro-environment choice this election that can't be discarded as simply a wasted vote. Which is in essence why this election is so important: no vote is wasted. What remains to be seen is whether Canadians use this opportunity to vote for a leader they truly believe in or fall back into the "I'm voting for whoever will fuck the other guy worst" mentality that has plagued our democracy since time immemorial.