A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Democratic Leaders Debate - Debate Criteria

With the possibility of an election once again looming we have seen increased “debate about the debate”. It seems to me that for a debate amongst leaders during an election period to be considered “democratic” then the criteria in selecting the participants must also be democratic, or at the very least based upon more than the personal opinion of a few executives. In thinking about what I would do if faced with the task of deciding who could or could not participate in a National Debate during the election process I have thought that it should be based upon some LOGICAL criteria that would set a precedent for future decisions. Whether those criteria would be set by the “Media Consortium” the existing Political Parties in power or Elections Canada is perhaps fodder for another post. I will however put this forward for consideration. If the “media consortium” limits or chooses the participants and provides said air time to those participants “free of charge” is this not a supply of goods or services to said selected participants and should that not fall under the election funding rules? If a third party decided these matters based upon some non partisan criteria then that possibility would seem to have less validity.

This then is just a “what if” to show the difficulties in setting up such criteria.

If one looks at the last election results one can see that at this time the Greens are the only ones “in the race” who are not all but guaranteed a spot. No other unelected party has achieved even close to their volume of popular support (ALL others only account for about 1% of the vote) or in fact fielded candidates in all provinces and over 90% of all ridings. It is to me a no brainer to include them, the greater question for me is whether a purely regional party such as the Bloc should be included (but they do have about 10% of the national vote). So what criteria should a logical non partisan panel use to decide, here are some thoughts on possible options…..

10% of the popular vote
10% of the popular vote AND candidates in all provinces
10% of the popular vote AND candidates in 50% of all ridings
10% of the popular vote OR candidates in all provinces
10% of the popular vote OR candidates in 50% of all ridings
5% of the popular vote
5% of the popular vote AND candidates in all provinces
5% of the popular vote AND candidates in 50% of all ridings
5% of the popular vote OR candidates in all provinces
5% of the popular vote OR candidates in 50% of all ridings

Or a combination of the above such as…

10% (or more?) of the popular vote
5% of the popular vote AND candidates in 50% (or 75% or ?) of all ridings

Which seems quite reasonable given that 5% is the funding threshold and 10% is the current standing of the Bloc, however the combinations and exact criteria are endless……

One of the things I note in “playing“ with some of these scenarios is that a regional party in the smaller provinces would have greater difficulty that those in a more populous area, (whilst the Bloc can garner 10% of the popular vote it would be impossible for a regional party in PEI to do so) I am not sure that this is “fair” but we are talking Nationally here. Despite having one regional party in the HoC it is still debatable (with no disrespect to that party) whether political parties who do not encompass at least the views of several provinces or a reasonable percentage of the citizens of Canada should participate in a National Debate!
However I do believe that with the size of our country, future regional parties, those who are not advocating the demise of Canadian Democracy but seek to enhance it, and represent a sizable number of citizens in a particular part of our vast nation, should perhaps have the opportunity to put their point of view before the public in the debate. We must also recognize however that there must be limits upon the number of participants in order that it remain a “debate”, this may not be “fair” to partys or individuals who do not meet the threshold and perhaps they should be provided with a “free” 30 second spot or something similar to compensate. It is “unfortunate” that the choices of so many citizens are so strongly effected by the ability of a candidates party to buy advertising!

Just so we all know what the numbers are, here is the data for the last election (% rounded).

NDP – 37 seats – 18% of popular vote – 308 seats contested in all provinces.

CPC – 143 seats – 38% of popular vote – 307 seats contested in all provinces.

LPC – 77 seats – 26% of popular vote – 307 seats contested in all provinces.

GPC – 0 seats – 7% of popular vote – 303 seats contested in all provinces.

BLOC – 49 seats – 10% of popular vote – 75 seats contested in ONE province.

There were 67 independent candidates and 234 “other” candidates (across 14 parties) who gained a total of 1% of the popular vote.

It can clearly be seen that under present circumstances there should be NO debate as to whether to include the Greens in the Debate, they clearly have exceeded any reasonable criteria but one, a seat in the House. But the debate is about who to elect to the House NOT who was elected last time and so that, from my point of view, should not even come into it! Since recent polls have indicated that over 70% of Canadians support the inclusion of the Greens in the debate despite (or perhaps because) their having around 10% popular support I can only surmise that Democracy IS still alive in Canada! We can only wait and see if it is still alive within those that decide who participates.

Having said all that let us not forget that the National Televised Debate is more about party policy (past and present & future) and the leaders public persona, and publicity for that party, than who we individually elect. In this country we elect individual MPs not Partys or Leaders (although one would not think so listening to the current lot in Ottawa) so that local all candidates debates are probably a better guide as to who we should have to represent us. It would be revealing if some of the questions during the leaders debate and at local candidates debates, whenever they may take place, were regarding how they view our democratic processes and how they would protect and enhance our democracy and make the election process less biased towards the larger party’s. That to me is the key to bringing about the changes in governance and policy needed to address the challenges of the 21st century. Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers


Skinny Dipper said...

I can understand your logic about who can participate in the debates; you're science is detailed. However, politics can be an art. The arts can break the rules of perceived logic.

I normally do not defend the prime minister. With respect to any debate, I will. Stephen Harper can choose whomever he wishes to debate whenever he wants so long as the other chosen participants agree. If Harper only wants to debate Ignatieff, no one can for him to debate any of the other leaders.

As for the broadcasters, they are obligated to air political advertising during an election period. As for as I know, they are not obligated to air any of the debates. The broadcasters may be willing to air the debates on their news channels or on the main networks on a Friday evening during which regular programs go to die. Think 'Ugly Betty' which moved from Thursday to Friday nights. Broadcasters won't lose that much money airing a debate on a Friday.

Personally, I do think there will be two sets of debates: a five party leader debate and a two party leader debate. The first debate will be a warm up debate where all the participants can yell at each other but nothing will be heard; the second debate will be a battle of the titans between Harper and Ignatieff. The content quality may become higher as there will only be two politicians debating.

Forget the science of debates; think of the art.

Rural said...

You may well be right in that each of the leaders must agree to participate with the others for it to happen, and if the PM declined to debate one leader or another it may well not take place. He would however do so at his own risk given the public view regarding who should participate the last time. Should it be reduced to a debate between two party leaders then I for one would consider it a major blow against our democratic processes. To infer by having a debate between the two partys who happened to gain the most seats LAST time that only those two partys “matter” is misleading and an insult to the citizens of Canada.
Perhaps you are also correct to say politics is an art, that being the case Harper is a master in technique even if the results are not to most voters taste!

Ms. M said...

Debate is hilarious to me at this point. I see no difference between Harper and Ignatieff at all. If it's just between the 2 of them, we have all lost already (and by that I mean the collective "we" - all living things on this planet).

Glenn Hubbers said...

Just a minor correction to your post. The threshold for funding is actually 2% of the popular vote, not 5% as stated.

At 2% of the popular vote, parties receive funding at a rate of $1.93 per year per vote received in the last general election.

In addition, any candidate who recieves over 10% of the popular vote in his/her riding will be refunded 60% of their campaign expenses.

Rural said...

Thanks Glen, my mistake! Perhaps then 2% should be the threshold for the debate also?