Toronto Star : Greens claim TV debate spot

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Greens claim TV debate spot

Bruce Campion-Smith | Ottawa Bureau Chief | August 31, 2008

OTTAWA -- Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has raised the stakes in the expected fall election with a dramatic move that gives the party its first-ever MP.

In a key strategic move yesterday, May announced that Independent MP Blair Wilson was joining the party's ranks.

But more importantly for May, it dramatically boosts her chances of getting a spot in the televised leaders' debates in a possible fall election and a shot at nationwide exposure.

"With a Green MP sitting in the House of Commons, it will now be impossible to exclude the Green Party from the televised leaders' debates in the next election," May said. While a place in the debates isn't guaranteed, May said the broadcast media consortium that sets the ground rules for the French and English debates has no choice but to ensure she is included now that the party has an MP.

"We believe that under all the criteria that have been put forward ... we now have made thoroughly the case that I must be included," May said.

That includes fielding candidates nationwide, receiving federal funding and now having a seat in the Commons.

"We have established ourselves as a party that cannot be described as fringe," said May. "We are a party whose ideas and policies are now in the mainstream."

With its 664,068 votes, the party garnered 4.5 per cent of voter support in the 2006 election. A Toronto Star poll put the Greens at about 9 per cent and May herself came second in a November 2006 by-election in London, Ont.

If successful, May's participation would mark the first time in 11 years that a woman political leader was in the televised debates. Then NDP leader Alexa McDonough took part in 1997.

Already, May is promising to put the heat on the other leaders – especially Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government's stance on the environment – if she's allowed on stage.

May acknowledged that participating in the debates would give the party a huge boost with nationwide exposure to French and English audiences.

"If they decide not to allow me in the debates, what they're really doing is telling voters: `Don't take that party seriously,'" she said.

Yesterday, Harper spokesperson Kory Teneycke said the overtures of co-operation between May and Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion should mean only one of them gets to participate in the debates.

"Ms May and Mr. Dion have an agreement for electoral co-operation ... you can't have two candidates from essentially the same party in the debate," Teneycke said.

The media consortium is due to meet Tuesday and May's fate in the debates could be discussed then.

A beaming May called it an historic day as she pinned a Green Party button on the lapel of Wilson's suit jacket at an Ottawa news conference yesterday.

Wilson, the MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, resigned from the Liberal party under a cloud almost a year ago after questions were raised about his personal finances. He has sat as an Independent since then.

He said he has been cleared of improprieties after an eight-month Elections Canada probe, which did highlight oversights made by the rookie MP during his campaign.

Wilson, first elected in 2006, said he has written Commons Speaker Peter Milliken requesting that he be officially recognized as a Green Party MP.

Wilson said the environment is the most important issue in his sprawling riding and predicted his move to the Greens would be well-received by constituents.

After Harper's meeting yesterday with NDP Leader Jack Layton and Friday with Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe, Teneycke said a fall election was "more likely." There's speculation that Harper will visit Governor General Michaëlle Jean a week from today, seeking her approval to dissolve Parliament for an Oct. 14 election.