With all the spin going on in the Ontario general election campaign, it is not at all helpful for the Ontario government-owned television service, TVO, to now be treating the Green Party of Ontario as one of the main parties to be present at every one of its candidates’ debates.
On his The Inside Agenda Blog, Steve Paikin asks in a May 14 post, “When you think of the Green Party of Ontario, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?”
His answer is, “I suspect it’s the Greens’ decades-long commitment to environmental protection.”
My answer is, frankly, I seldom ever think of the Green Party of Ontario. I infrequently think about Elizabeth May and her federal Greens, but almost never of her provincial cousins.
My guess is that, for the vast majority of Ontarians, the provincial Green party is pretty much irrelevant and has been thus since that party started fielding candidates in 1985.
So under what criteria can the Greens be judged to be one of the “main” parties? I suppose it’s the fact the they run candidates in every riding during general elections. But so what? Many of those candidates are of no consequence to the eventual outcome of the individual races in their ridings.
I’ll give an example of what I mean.
Back in 2007, a provincial by-election was held in my Burlington riding to fill the seat vacated when PC MPP Cam Jackson resigned to run for mayor of Burlington. The Green Party of Ontario was represented by Frank de Jong, the then provincial leader of that party.
During that campaign, no one that I could find could remember seeing de Jong in the riding, nor could they remember seeing any Green party literature of any kind. On election day de Jong received 734 votes out of the 22,748 cast. He was the leader of the Greens yet caused not a ripple of effect in the election.
Too often, this is the what happens with Green party candidates in election after election. It’s as if the candidates are placeholders with no chance whatsoever of being elected.
The Greens’ 2007 experience in Burlington is about what one might expect for a party that, in the 2011 general election, received less than 3 per cent of the votes—and that’s the highest percentage it has achieved in Ontario, except for 2007 when it got a little over 8 per cent.
This does not seem to be the inevitable fate of new political parties under our first-past-the-post system, as many would have us believe. Other parties have been launched since the Greens made their Ontario election debut in 1985 and have had great success at the polls. The Greens, one might say, have been notable by their failure to make themselves more relevant to voters.
Take as an example the Reform Party of Canada, which rose rapidly to absorb a mainstream party and win the last three federal elections as the Conservative Party of Canada. Another example is the Wildrose party in Alberta—it now leads the polls as the party to beat in that province.
I contend that the fact the Greens run a full slate does not mean they are a “main” party. On the contrary, as a political party, they are insignificant—a mere sideshow. If the Greens were to disappear from Ontario’s political scene tomorrow, it would not make an iota of difference. If the Grits, Tories or the NDP disappeared, they’d leave a political vacuum; not so for the Greens.
So what does it matter that TVO has decided the Greens are to be represented at all its candidates’ debates? Well, these debates are an important element of the current campaign and having extraneous voices and messages just wastes time and causes confusion.
TVO viewers end up listening to the likes of Green leader Mike Schreiner as he dares “to go where none of the other parties has” as Paikin put it in a recent blog post. How can it matter to anyone that Schreiner—apparently a very nice man—wants to see a “unified school system” in the province? The Ontario Greens are not likely to be in a position to make this happen, so why even discuss it during the election campaign.
Is it not more productive to debate party platforms that could get implemented by a majority government or be used as bargaining chips in a minority government situation? Why not leave academic discussions to a time when they’ll not act as a distraction?
Fortunately for those who follow campaigns, the Greens will not be included in the upcoming televised Leaders’ debates—at least, not at this point in time. Green party officials are pressing hard to be included, though, so let’s hope the executives and producers at the stations that host the debates stick to their guns on this one.
I admire the fact that Steve Paikin and the other folks at TVO always seem to bend over backwards to be fair to all concerned, but this is political correctness taken to a silly extreme and to the point it becomes unfair to a significant number of viewers.