Saturday, September 05, 2009

Jeffrey Simpson wants to exclude the NDP from the leaders' debates?

In the Globe today, Jeffrey Simpson seems a little off his rocker as he talks about early preparations for the televised leaders' debates for the next election.

Last election, there was a large public outcry as Green Elizabeth May, with the support of the Liberal leader Stephane Dion and many media commentators (including Simpson), pushed successfully for to be included in the debates. Resisting against her inclusion were the television networks, as well as Conservative Stephen Harper and the NDP's Jack Layton, who threatened to boycott were May included.

The NDP confirmed late Monday that Layton had said he wouldn't attend the debate were May allowed to participate, on the grounds that she has already effectively endorsed Dion for prime minister.

"We have someone else who wants to be in the debate who actually supports the leader of one of those [other] parties," Layton said of May.

"I don't agree with that position. I think what we want to do is take on the same old same old, which is the Conservative and Liberal governments in power year after year."

Finally, public pressure forced Harper and Layton to relent and May was included.

Now, though, Simpson has had a change of heart. We need a new formula for determining who gets to take part, he says:
Set the following criteria. Leaders whose parties get at least 15 per cent of the popular vote and/or whose parties have 50 seats (roughly 15 per cent) in the House of Commons can participate in the nationally televised debate in English in the main network.

The same criteria could be used in French. Leaders whose parties commanded 15 per cent of the vote (in Quebec) can participate in debates on the main channels; interviews would be reserved for the others.

That would, naturally, exclude the Green Party. Sorry, Elizabeth.

And depending on whether the "and" or the "or" is used in Simpson's example, the Greens might not be the only party excluded from Simpson's dream debates.

It could also exclude the NDP for they only meet half that rule, having gotten 18.2 per cent of the vote for 37 seats in 2008. And it would definitely exclude the BQ from the English-language debates as they fail on both measures, earning 9.97 per cent and, with 49 seats, falling one short.

The NDP would be out in Quebec too, having fallen short of Simpson's threshold with 12.18 per cent of the vote in 2008.

So, under Simpson's formula, the English debate would be Harper and Michael Ignatieff head-to-head, while Quebec would be Duceppe-Ignatieff-Harper. The other leaders would get an hour-long interview on a specialty network. Maybe they can reno a cottage with Mike Holmes or something.

I agree that the debate format has become lame. Personally, I think it would be sweet to watch Ignatieff mop the floor with Harper head-to-head. And there is a certain irony here, given that Layton pushed to hard to exclude May.

But excluding the NDP is ridiculous and I feel fairly confident in saying it would never happen. It can't without the agreement of the other parties, and they wouldn't agree to it for the backlash would be fierce. The backlash was bad enough when the NDP and Conservatives tried to exclude the Greens. It won't happen.

Let's look at improving the format, but let's not be ridiculous either.

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14 comments:

Joseph said...

Please do not bastardize the Canadian political system so badly that it becomes a 2-party US system.

I love the variety of voices in Canada.

People constantly pull out the "we don't want to become Italy" meme. But in my opinion, the evidence down south makes one wonder if a strict top-to-bottom 2-party system doesn't yield equally sad outcomes.

It was not always that way in the states, who even once had a third-party President - maybe even twice. Over time the institutions shifted so that the 2 parties became entrenched in culture, media, even government (how voter registration became emeshed with identifying your party is a bit bizarre).

So, please please please don't forge willingly in that direction.

janfromthebruce said...

thank you Jeff. I just want to assertion that being inclusive is because of fairness or fear of backlash?

Skinny Dipper said...

The problem in deciding who gets to debate whom is that we depend on mathematical formulae and broadcaster-party agreements. Who gets to debate whom depends on the candidates themselves. Who gets to be seen on television depends on the broadcasters.

Prime Minister Harper has the choice to debate any of the other candidates if he so wishes. He cannot be forced to debate anyone. He can't be forced to debate May, Layton, Duceppe, or even Ignatieff. The same holds true for the other candidates. They cannot be forced to debate others.

The broadcasters can choose to air the debates. If there are only one or two debates, all the major general and news broadcasters would choose to air the debates. If there were ten debates, it is likely that only the news, educational, and poltical channels would choose to air some or all of the debates.

Here is my prediction of what may happen in the next election:

There will be two sets of debates: a five party debate and a Harper-Ignatieff debate. On the latter, sure the other parties will complain. They will go to the CRTC and Elections Canada to protest their exclusion. It is likely that the CRTC and Elections Canada will tell the parties to try to solve this problem themselves. If the two governing agencies were to tell Harper and Ignatieff that they had to include the other leaders, the two leaders could just call off all of the debates.

If a group of Middle-Eastern Canadians cannot force Maclean's magazine to publish a rebuttle to Mark Steyn's commentary, then I can't see Duceppe, Layton, and May forcing Harper and Ignatieff to debate the two secondary leaders and one tertiary leader all the time.

RuralSandi said...

Does't Simpson believe in democracy? Those who voted NDP (shudder) have a right to have their leader be heard in a debate.

Simpson trying to get attention or something?

RuralSandi said...

I have a better thought - just like in school, cheaters don't get to write their exams.

Harper cheated at the last debate and shouldn't be allowed to debate in the next one.

√Čric said...

The "50 seats" is especially transparent, because 15% of the House of Commons is 46 seats and not 50, which would allow Duceppe to be in the English debate.

This is just one of those artificial ways to exclude the Bloc at the expense of democracy. To try to include the NDP as well is incredible.

Young Liberal said...

I have the same concern as Joseph. We can't let this become a two party system just because of debate formatting.

I think the obvious improvement to the debates would be to take the Green Party out and give them one of these interviews Simpson was talking about. To say that someone who gets slightly over 6 or so percent in an election can take up, in the name of fairness, time that could be used by serious contenders for your vote is ridiculous.

Gene Rayburn said...

jan, that wasn't very friendly of you. Please learn some manners and don't slap a person while you shake their hand.

Malcolm+ said...

The traditional threshold for inclusion was that a party had to have a seat in the Commons. That seems fairly clear, reasonable and unambiguous.

There were two arguments - neither definitive - against including EMay the last time:
* the fact that her one MP in the House was not elected as a Green but had crossed the floor;
* the fact that EMay had endorsed the Liberal Party (and, though not known at the time, she would go on to encourage Green supporters to abandon their own party in 307 ridings).

The Simpson thesis makes a presumption that is completely indefensible in Canada: that only one of two parties can win an election - and that prior election results and Parliamentary standings can reliably predict which two parties.

I direct the myopic Mr. Simpson to the province of Nova Scotia, and the election of 1998.

In the previous election, the NSNDP had won 17.7% of the popular vote, which would have met Mr. Simpson's criteria. But the party only held 3 seats, less than half of the 8 seats which would have been required to meet Simpson's 15% threshhold.

According to the allk nowing Jeff, there was no way the NSNDP could possibly be taken seriously as a potential election winner.

But what does wee Jeffrey know?

Not much.

Turns out a party that doesn't meet Simpson's arbitrary and deliberately restrictive criteria can actually be a serious contender. Come election day, the unelectable, not possibly in contention NSNDP came within one seat and 0.7% of the popular vote of winning the election. (The NSNDP and NSLibs actually tied, but as the incumbent government, the Liberals had the first chance to test for confidence.)

Now, granted, this was an unusual result, and such a significant shift won't happen in every election. But it can happen - and has more than once in Canadian politics. Social Credit won the very first Alberta election they ever contested. The Progressives came from nowhere to become the largest opposition party in the 1920s. Wee Jeffrey might even cast his mind back to the 1993 federal election, when the majority party was reduced to two seats and a pair of upstart parties dominated the opposition benches. I'm sure Prime Minister Harper remembers that election - where he first became an MP.

It won't happen in every election, but it can happen in any election.

It would be nice if Jeffrey would admit that his proposal is concerned less with making the debates more valuable and more with continuing the ongoing duopoly of two centre-right parties.

DL said...

Imagine if we used Simpson's minimum 50 seat formula after the 1984 election where the Tories under Mulroney took 211 seats, the Liberals 40 and the NDP 30. Under Simpson's scheme, in the 1988 election Mulroney would have debated with himself for two hours while Turner and Bradbent cooled their heels!

Mtn Goat said...

Wow - I finally see what's going on. There's a conspiracy to make sure the public never hears different points of view so that there is almost no chance that anything will ever change. And some people still can't understand why fewer and fewer Canadians choose to vote. All we ever hear is the same old tired lies and misrepresentations, AND WE'RE SICK OF IT!!

Jon Pertwee said...

LOL DL, I have a feeling if lyin Brian had debated himself he might have been a one term PM.

lise said...

There are electors in Quebec whose French comprehension is not good enough to follow a heated political debate. To exclude these voters from the debate featuring the leaders of the parties that they will be asked to choose from come election day is unacceptable; if they wish to listen to the English debate in Quebec they should be able to see a debate with Duceppe at the table.
Likewise, there are francophones outside of Quebec. If they want to listen to the French debate, they should not be limited to hearing only from leaders whose party is strong inside of Quebec. When you start mixing up linguistic divisions with geographic ones you are proving you know little (or care little) about the true linguistic and geographic and political nature of our country.
As it is, the existing divide in this country was established and continues to be exacerbated by this kind of myopic, oversimplified thinking that there is one (his)story, (i.e. one reality) for people in one part of the country, to the exclusion of others, and a whole other one to tell in another part of the country, to the exclusion of others. No wonder we are so divided and have such a hard time understanding each other. We are talking about federal elections and not provincial ones after all.

lise said...

There are electors in Quebec whose French comprehension is not good enough to follow a heated political debate. To exclude these voters from the debate featuring the leaders of the parties that they will be asked to choose from come election day is unacceptable; if they wish to listen to the English debate in Quebec they should be able to see a debate with Duceppe at the table.
Likewise, there are francophones outside of Quebec. If they want to listen to the French debate, they should not be limited to hearing only from leaders whose party is strong inside of Quebec. When you start mixing up linguistic divisions with geographic ones you are proving you know little (or care little) about the true linguistic and geographic and political nature of our country.
As it is, the existing divide in this country was established and continues to be exacerbated by this kind of myopic, oversimplified thinking that there is one (his)story, (i.e. one reality) for people in one part of the country, to the exclusion of others, and a whole other one to tell in another part of the country, to the exclusion of others. No wonder we are so divided and have such a hard time understanding each other. We are talking about federal elections and not provincial ones after all.