Should the Green Party have a seat at the first televised Leader’s debate, even though it doesn’t have a seat at Queen’s Park?
It’s been a burning question heading into Monday’s #CityVote showdown between Kathleen Wynne, Andrea Horwath, and Doug Ford.
Two online petitions have accumulated tens of thousands of signatures in support of having Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner in the mix, and CityNews’ Twitter page has seen a steady stream of tweets questioning why the Greens aren’t represented.
Schreiner released a statement calling his exclusion “undemocratic.”
“We are publicly funded like the other three parties, and hundreds of thousands vote for us in Ontario and the GTHA,” he added. “The Green wave is real and the people of Toronto deserve to hear about how our policies can help make this city even greater.”
Green Party supporters have also staged a silent protest in front of the CityNews newsroom, taping their mouths shut to represent the silencing of who they consider a viable election option for voters.
So why wasn’t Schreiner included in the debate?
According to Rogers’ Vice President of News and Information, Dave Budge, a simple criteria was followed when it came to deciding who would be invited to the CityNews debate.
“In a broadcast it’s not possible to invite every party that would like to be part of the debate,” Budge said. “You can’t cherry pick, so you have to have a criteria that makes sense, that’s logical, and that’s consistent. We gave it a lot of thought and discussion and concluded that the same approach that’s been taken by other networks all across Canada is the one that makes sense, and that’s to invite the parties that have elected certain numbers in the legislature and that are running candidates in all ridings.”
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But not everyone believes the party should be sidelined.
Ryerson journalism professor, Marsha Barber, believes the Green Party’s strong showing in the last election has cemented its status as the fourth official party.
“The Green Party got nearly 233,000 votes, so clearly they are the fourth party,” she stressed.
Barber believes the criteria for inclusion in debates should be obtaining more than two per cent of the vote, rather than winning a seat.
“They did well, they get a provincial subsidy as a result of that, they’ve cleared the two per cent of votes hurdle, so I think they very much deserve to be there.”
But Budge thinks that would open the floodgates.
“If we opened the door to parties that (don’t have) elected members of the legislature then where do we stop? Do we say you have to have two per cent of the vote? You have to have five per cent of the vote?”
“Our parliamentary system is based on winning seats somewhere,” he added. “We don’t have representation in legislature based on a small percentage of the popular vote. You have to win seats somewhere.”
Author and University of Toronto political science professor, Nelson Wiseman, agrees with Budge.
“I don’t think the Green Party should be in the debates unless it wins at least one or two seats in the subsequent election,” Wiseman said in a Skype interview.
“There are more than a dozen parties registered with Elections Ontario,” he added. “Is Citytv prepared to put all of them on the air? No! Why should parties that have virtually no support … be in the debate?”
Wiseman also balked at Barber’s suggestion that the Greens should be included because the Greenbelt has been an early election talker after Doug Ford backed down from a promise to develop parts of the protected space.
“The Green Party isn’t the only party that talks about the Greenbelt,” Wiseman countered. “All the parties have positions on the Greenbelt…so there’s nothing unique about that.”
For Wiseman it all boils down to relevancy.
“The Green Party has not established that it’s as relevant yet (as the major three parties),” he concluded. “It’s not irrelevant, it’s just not at the same level.”
And while Green Party supporters taped their mouths shut in protest, Schreiner was intent on being heard one way or the other.
He live-tweeted his answers to the questions the leaders faced at the #CityVote debate.