Up for debate
If I'm reading things correctly, none of the four main party leaders has a problem with Green Party leader Elizabeth May appearing in the TV debates. In the story today from my colleague Joanna Smith, we are reminded that three leaders threatened to boycott in 2008 if May participated, but this year, it seems they've all decided that to protest this time would be a bad idea.
The Conservatives have been a bit ambivalent, saying May is "fully capable of arguing her own case," but NDP leader Jack Layton was more definitive in a statement: "We're fine with her in the debate." Michael Ignatieff himself weighed in late last night from Vancouver: “I think Elizabeth May belongs in the debate, it's as simple as that."
Now the TV consortium finds itself with a flaming bag of something or other on its doorstep, left alone to withstand the same kind of firestorm that May's exclusion provoked in 2008. Or, if you want to go farther back, the same kind of popular protest that arose in 1993, when Reform Party leader Preston Manning was initially shut out, because he didn't speak both languages. Either this will be solved quickly today, and May will be involved, or this is going to get very complicated.
I've had a nagging feeling, which I've shared with colleagues, that we aren't going to have TV debates this time, or that they're going to look quite different (one-on-one encounters, etc.) I can actually envision a situation in which the battle over May goes on for days and one or the other parties just declare that the whole thing is a mess, let's call the whole thing off.
Is that a bad thing? Though many have reservations about the staged, canned nature of these debates in recent elections, one thing is clear: they spark voter interest, even temporarily. No debates would probably mean lower voter turnout, already at a record low in 2008. Presumably no party is interested in that. Or is there a party that would benefit from fewer people at the ballot box?