Wednesday, March 30, 2011

May Day

Sources say Elizabeth May won't be allowed into the debates this time around.

Personally, I feel May did little more than take up air time in 2008 so I don't have a problem with this decision. The flip side is that she's now going to take up a ton of air time between now and then due to the predictable outrage over her exclusion.

The debate we get about the Greens' participation in the debates every election shows why we need a firm set of guidelines on how debates are run in Canada. Right now, the only criteria being used seems to be having a seat in the House, but that strikes me as a rather arbitrary rule. I mean, was Blair Wilson really the Greens' ticket to the debates in 2008? This was a candidate elected as a Liberal, booted from the party in the midst of an Elections Canada investigation, who joined the Greens a few weeks before the election. If Helena Guergis joined the Pirate Party today would the Pirates qualify for the debates?

What I'd like to see would be a more far reaching set of criteria. How about a point system along the lines of:

5 * MPs elected last election + 5 * Current MPS + number of candidates in upcoming election + number of votes in previous campaign / 10,000

Anyone with over 500 points gets a spot in the debate. We can certainly play with the math or we can set benchmarks parties need to reach, but the point is we need to remove the power from backroom negotiations between the broadcasters and parties. Having firm guidelines would spare us from repeating the debate debate every election.

And while we're at it, how about trying out some of the other changes to the way we run debates I suggested back in 2009?

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25 Comments:

  • I believe you are right. In our system, with so many parties, some set of guidelines determining these things in advance would be a workable idea.

    Personally I couldn't agree more with a decision to exclude May from debates. I'd like to support the party more, yet May is just too much.

    She's not even serious about getting a seat, she's just using the party for her own publicity.

    By Blogger Jacques Beau Vert, at 9:04 AM  

  • The faceless broadcast consortium will cave by week's end - just watch. (I hope they don't because she doesn't add anything to the farce we call debates.) When that happens, it'll prove your point about the need for firm guidelines.

    By Blogger Sean Cummings, at 9:11 AM  

  • Does the electoral debate simply happen because Canada's broadcasters consider it a public service? Is there a federal law it has to happen? If it's really just out of the goodness of the CBC/CTV/Global/TV5's hearts, I think our the public's hands are tied. It seems that the broadcasters can do whatever they want...

    ...and add "This debate is brought to you by The Listener, season 1 on DVD."

    By Blogger Daniel, at 9:13 AM  

  • Basing whether or not a party should be represented at the debates on the last debate performance of their leader is not the way to go. Nationally, Greens sometimes poll ahead of BQ and within sight of NDP. They should be there.

    By Blogger bigcitylib, at 9:17 AM  

  • "... why we need a firm set of guidelines on how debates are run..."
    Yes please. I think the debates are important, and the lack of a set of guidelines makes the whole thing open to bias.

    I probably won't vote for the Greens this election, and yet I feel that the exclusion of the party from the debates is wrong because it's mostly unjustified. If a set of clear and fair guidelines excluded the party from the event, then I wouldn't have a problem with this decision.

    If the Conservative party, in 1993, had been wiped out instead of holding on to two mere seats, would they have been excluded from the debates in the next general election? I highly doubt so; but then, what would have been the explanation? Party history? Past tradition? Vote intentions? It's not clear enough.

    By Anonymous Doctacosa, at 9:21 AM  

  • As an afterthought: when was the last election we actually HAD a debate as opposed to a dog pile on the incumbent, a cluster#$% of shouting and interrupting and essentially a lot of white noise as opposed to a debate about ideas?

    See, for me it's not about her exclusion, it's the format. It's the inability for the viewer to actually witness a debate. It's Jerry Springer outside of the trailer park.

    By Blogger Sean Cummings, at 9:24 AM  

  • I'm with Sean. The last debate format was horrible. I was really put off by people talking over and interrupting each other. I doubt many people learned anything new about any of the candidates using that format.

    By Anonymous Dave Roberts, at 9:41 AM  

  • "Having firm guidelines ..."

    If a party receives enough votes to qualify for Federal funding then it deserves to be in the debates. I believe the level is at 3% of the vote.

    By Blogger Herbinator, at 9:44 AM  

  • She'll be in by the end of the week. The debate will not be a debate..again. She will wag her finger and try to talk over people. She will filter votes from the NPD and the Libs, and, in the end her party will not win one single seat. Ignatief just said she should be in. Why when your trying to stop the Cons from gaining a majority would you allow a person to take up 1/5th of the air time and take votes from you?
    Makes no sense.

    By OpenID gwilliamjr, at 10:07 AM  

  • Sean's right on all counts.

    The consortium will cave, and May will be in the debates.

    Would they cave if Harris or Chernushenko were the leader? No. Would they cave if it was a right-wing fringe party instead? No. But they'll cave for the Greens even though they added nothing to the last debate.

    Sean's also right that the format sucked last year. Four parties grilling Harper. You hate Harper - WE GET IT. We're supposed to vote for whichever one hates Harper the best?

    Whichever formula you come up with, look at 1993 as an example. Reform and Bloc IN, but National Party OUT? Didn't make sense.

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 10:22 AM  

  • And while we're at it, can we move beyond the entire concept of an English and French debate?

    Why not have 3 or 4 bilingual debates instead, of different formats?

    By Anonymous CJS, at 10:35 AM  

  • Come on folks - a MILLION votes in the last election. The ONLY major party to increase its vote count. That is significant support. And they're running in every riding.

    We're talking about the #1 event of the campaign - the one that in effect tells voters what their options are.

    A hard-nosed partisan may want to exclude the Greens, but I don't see why a fair-minded democrat would want to do so.

    By Anonymous Jeff, at 10:45 AM  

  • As Jeff said, "a MILLION votes in the last election"

    Also May did have some telling comments about Afghanistan and opium, but I guess the big parties are all too indebted to big-pharma and big-armaments to want to allow that sort of thing slipping in again.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:54 AM  

  • I want podiums back. I hated the whole "let's sit and chat" thing.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:08 AM  

  • I think more parties need to be represented, and May should be in. But... (but)... I worry about the format. I was a debater in school. Our debates had fact-checking. Our debates had active moderators (not media "faces"). Our debates allowed for a solid rebuttal, and a good back and forth. Previous debates lacked something. I think we have to go back to the 80s to find good political debates in Canada. Last election's debate was the closest to it - but we need FACT CHECKING. Otherwise, when the incumbent is made to lose, the viewers and "experts" say, "oh, he did well enough to hold his own - he is the incumbent after all", rather than, "holy crap, he got hammered in that debate".

    Fact-checkers would help all that, and I'd LOVE to see expert fact-checkers from several fields involved in the debates to help the moderators. In our debates we were always allowed to confirm facts on points-of-order.

    By Blogger WesternGrit, at 11:11 AM  

  • I agree with Sean Cummings about the debate formats... I don't even watch them even more.

    And as Robert Vollman says, "What, I'm supposed to vote for who hates Harper the best?"

    And I definitely support the idea of bilingual debates!!

    By Blogger Jacques Beau Vert, at 11:12 AM  

  • WesternGrit... are you talking about people actually on the set of the debate, given time to speak regarding accuracy of debating points?

    I'd PAY to see that debate!

    By Blogger Jacques Beau Vert, at 11:14 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Jacques Beau Vert, at 11:14 AM  

  • Not having May in the debate helps Layton and the NDP. He can attack Harper and Ignatieff as the "tarsands twins" and present himself as the greenest leader.

    Nuna D. Above

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:25 AM  

  • we need to remove the power from backroom negotiations between the broadcasters and parties

    Absolutely, right on, 100%.

    By Blogger Jacques Beau Vert, at 11:32 AM  

  • By rights, under the current model, May belongs there. However, I hope she doesn't get in. A useless windbag who adds nothing. I actually voted Green once or twice before her ego showed up and sucked the oxygen out of the room.

    All that said, the current format is obsolete; it's built on the idea that there's broadcast scarcity, which no longer exists. You could tape a series of one on one debates between several leaders and stick them on one non-partisan website online; they'd probably be seen by more Canadians that way than if broadcast in the conventional manner.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:34 AM  

  • The reason this discussion always comes up is that there is a tradeoff between inclusion and quality of debate. Harper vs. Ignatieff would be very high-quality debate, for instance, but probably unfair. Letting everybody, including the Canadian action party show up would be inclusive, but unmanageable.

    Instead of support/seat cutoffs, and instead of letting whichever party whines the most, lets just include the top 3 parties nationally in the English debates, and the top 3 parties in Quebec in the French language debates (although this means we have to stop pretending Canada is functionally bilingual).

    I have nothing against being inclusive, but it destroys the value of having a debate in the first place. There is a reason the 1980s uniquely (the 1960s and 1970s debates weren't that good either) had good debates - they kept the number of participants manageable.

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 12:12 PM  

  • As far as May's performance in the last debate I felt she certainly held her own, but I didn't think she added much substantively beyond what the other leaders provided.

    As well the visual of four people at one table ganging up on Harper almost made me sympathetic for the man.

    The round-table format was a terrible, awful idea and unequivocally should be scrapped.

    The piling-on against the current leader is inevitable and unavoidable, but it can be controlled somewhat.

    I actually thought the format of the 2006 debates, in which the moderator picked two leaders and required them to have a mini one-on-one, was a pretty good idea and let to some good exchanges esp. between Martin and Harper, and Martin and Layton.

    Admittedly it led to some strange bits like Layton and Duceppe "debating" each other about the Iraq War, which they of course used to launch tandem broadsides against Harper because, well, what else could they do?

    By Blogger saphorr, at 2:58 PM  

  • Jacques - that's exactly what I mean. We had "fact-checkers" who were moderators, and could discount an argument when it was deemed incorrect.

    By Blogger WesternGrit, at 5:08 PM  

  • Saphorr - I like the mini one-on-one debates, but then that means we also have to see Layton debate Duceppe on pensions.

    I'd rather do a series of debates. Do one one-on-one debate. One with the top 3 parties, one with everyone running a full slate of candidates in Quebec, etc, etc. Mix up the formats. Mix up the topics. Make them all billingual.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 11:57 PM  

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