Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Politics: A Healthier Canadian Democracy

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Today, the media consortium organizing the Leadership Debates in Canada reversed its position and decided to allow Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party, to participate in the debate. The strong public reaction to May's exclusion clearly had an impact. By mid-day today, both Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe and NDP leader Jack Layton had backtracked and stated that they would show up for the debate as long as Conservative leader Stephen Harper was there, whether May was there or not. Duceppe had some credibility in stating that this was his position all along, while Layton had clearly tired of the distraction and backed off his previous stance. Standing alone, the Conservatives issued a statement--not speaking publically--that they had dropped their threat to not attend if May was invited. With the path cleared, the consortium issued May an invitation.

Public opinion had won out in a matter of about two days. May issued a statement that "democracy and free speech" remained safe in Canada.

Hyperbole perhaps, but it is clear that a similar series of events could never have taken place in the United States. Ross Perot and running mate James Stockdale (of "Who Am I? Why am I here?" fame) may have been allowed at the 1992 debates, but after seeing that an independent candidate might actually impact the election, the Republicans and Democrats closed ranks and there was no possibility of Perot appearing in the 1996 debates, even though his poll numbers and potential impact on state elections looked about the same pre-debate in 1996 as they had in 1992. Sure enough, instead of capturing 18.9% of the national vote as he had in 1992, Perot dropped to 8.8% in 1996 and then faded out of sight. After the close 2000 election in which many Democrats blamed third-party candidate Ralph Nader for their loss, the door was slammed shut even tighter. There was no serious discussion of allowing Libertarian candidate Bob Barr, who currently polls as high as 10% in some southeastern states, in the 2008 debates.

So, instead, we had the scene today of Republican Congressman Ron Paul, himself a one-time Libertarian presidential nominee who had been running for president as a Republican in the primaries, garnering considerable support in some states, hosting a forum for third-party candidates. Constitution Party candidate Chuck Baldwin, Green Party nominee Cynthia McKinney, independent candidate Ralph Nader, and Libertarian Party nominee Bob Barr were scheduled to appear, but only Baldwin, McKinney, and Nader actually showed up. At the event, Ron Paul said he was endorsing all four candidates. Each had signed a pledge to balance the budget, bring US troops home, uphold personal liberties and investigate the Federal Reserve.

Paul is probably right when he states that those positions are supported by the vast majority of the American people and viewed as important by them, but not by the two major parties. But, except for political junkies, probably few people even noticed that the third-party event had occurred. It showed as at most a second-level headline on every source I looked at today and wasn't on even on some notable web sites like Newsweek and Fox News.

Perhaps making the point of just how broken the system is in the US, Bob Barr did eventually show up after the Ron Paul event. However, Barr stated that he wasn't interested in promoting third parties, but only his candidacy as a Libertarian for president. Granted, that would be consistent with Libertarian philosophy at some level, but doesn't he see that is the whole root of the problem?

Canadians seem to understand, and they have won a battle in forcing their leaders to see it the same way.

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