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It's time for the Green Party to debate (Updated)

This Magazine Staff

This morning the Green Party of Canada announced that it has retained a lawyer to pressure Canadian broadcasters to include the Greens in future electoral debates (including the one rumoured to be announced on Friday). Up until now, the TV networks have always brushed off the Greens because they had no MP sitting in parliament. That changed, technically, on August 30, when independent B.C. MP Blair Wilson joined the party. Even had that not happened, it’s time for the Green Party, and leader Elizabeth May, seen here, to get a shot at the microphone.
Many progressives have regarded the Green Party with a certain amount of suspicion — the Greens’ growing popularity undoubtedly risks splitting the left, as the Globe’s Lawrence Martin writes this morning. (Chantal Hébert in the Star thinks the Greens threaten the Conservatives as well.)
(Update, 5:30 pm: NDP spokesperson Carl Belanger called back this afternoon to say that in the NDP’s view, “Nothing has changed since the last election” to make the Greens a part of the debates now. Wilson, he said, wasn’t elected as a Green and hasn’t sat in session as one, so they don’t find the argument persuasive.)
Green Party spokesperson Camille Labchuk told me earlier this afternoon that her party doesn’t regard itself as being right or left, and in fact thinks the labels themselves are outdated. “It’s wrong to think of the Green Party as a party of the left,” she told me by phone. “Many of our supporters are former Progressive Conservatives who are political orphans — the Conservative party is nothing like the PC party was.”

But the Greens have undeniably moved left since Elizabeth May became leader, and many of their policies will end up stepping on the toes of the NDP and the Liberals. The Greens have the potential to be a disruptive force in progressive politics (in many ways, they already are), and not necessarily in a helpful or constructive way — Jean Chrétien coasted for years as the Reform and PC parties scrapped with each other, fighting over voters and getting nowhere.
But that’s a problem for the parties and their strategists and pollsters and door-knockers. Among voters, the Greens have earned the right to be heard in a national leaders’ debate. They’re moving the needle on opinion polls; when asked, Canadians generally feel they should have a place in the debates; and their platform needs and deserves the scrutiny that will only really come when they are treated as an electoral going concern. Sniping from the sidelines, as they’ve been forced to do in recent years, doesn’t help anyone. Put them in the ring and see how they do.
The networks say they won’t make the call on including May until the election is actually called, but Labchuk said the party’s feeling optimistic. “We don’t feel like it will be possible to exclude us this time around. We will not accept the argument that we can’t be part of the debate.”
CC-licenced photo courtesy Flickr user itzafineday

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