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Greens with envy
by Greg O'Brien

Articles in related categories
CRTC/Regulatory - TV
TV - On Air
TORONTO - It must be leadership debate time in the election campaign because Canada's Green Party has hit the media circuit demanding to be let into the televised leadership debates.

The party, which has never elected anyone to the House of Commons, is angry with the broadcast consortium of CanWest Global, the CBC, CTV and TVA because its leader, Jim Harris, will not be on stage with Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, Conservative leader Stephen Harper, NDP leader Jack Layton and Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe. It has penned a letter to the CRTC demanding inclusion in the debates, scheduled for June 14th in French and June 15th in English. Harris appeared on television and radio and in print numerous times last week.

The party complained about the same thing during 2003's Ontario provincial election.

"Normally in hockey it's the players who decide the game not the referees, and the same standard of fair play must apply to last week's decision by the broadcast consortium to exclude the Green Party of Canada from this month's leaders' debate," announced leader Jim Harris last week at a Toronto news conference.

"By excluding us, the consortium is silencing the voices not only of those who support our party but also the 8.2 million Canadians who rejected all the old-line parties in the 2000 federal election by opting for 'none-of-the-above,'" he added about those who voted for someone other than one of the four main parties.

Harris said the Greens are an emerging party whose polling shows it at 6% national support. "We are the first nationwide alternative to the status quo in fifty years and we are offering voters, hungry for change, a full slate of 308 candidates to chose from," he said.

That's all well and good, Global TV News' deputy editor Peter Kent told www.broadcastermagazine.com, but it still means that the Green Party is a fringe party which has never had a member in the House.

"We've been there before with the National Party and the Natural Law party," says Kent, referring to past minor parties who shouted about getting into the TV debates. Kent said that while he's heard from Green supporters via phone calls and e-mails, he's had just as many from Canadians wondering why the Bloc Quebecois is being allowed into the debate as they are just a regional party.

"(The Greens) have a great dynamic team. It's wonderful they're running candidates in every riding. Their poll numbers look like maybe they are on the verge of making a breakthrough somewhere - getting a member - and if they do get representation in Parliament, then they will be considered," said Kent.

"Generally, admission is on the basis of the previous election. In the last election, the Greens contested 11 constituencies and got a total of about 100,000 votes. Basically, if they get a seat, they'll have a lot more leverage in terms of our admission (the next time around)."

Kent added that in 1993, the broadcast consortium created an extra debate program for the leaders of the minor parties, which aired only on CBC, but few tuned in and the parties involved hated it.

"The decision to exclude the Green Party was made in a vacuum, without consultation or even a chance to make our case," said Harris in another press release last week, saying that a quick poll done for the party showed that 76% of Canadians want the Green Party included in the debate. "Don't Canada's political parties want a higher turnout and more voter information about the available political choices? Seventy-six per cent of Canadians seem to think so, but five broadcast executives don't," he said.

An online petition has also been launched (www.greenparty.ca)

The backdrop to all of this is that with the reforms to campaign financing which were made in Bill C-24, Canadian political parties have a financial stake in the election. Parties that receive a minimum of 2% of the total vote will be entitled to federal funding of $1.75 per vote, an injection of capital that would be crucial to the Greens - and a key reason why Harris went on his media juggernaut last week.
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