Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Bad News Out of Quebec for the Green Party of Canada

Uh-oh. There's bad news for the Green Party of Canada coming out of Quebec today. It looks like Jean-Francois Larose, MP for the Quebec riding of Repetigny, has quit the New Democrats and will join together with Bloc Quebecois-turned-Independent MP Jean-Francois Fortin (Haute-Gasp├ęsie—La Mitis—Matane—Matap├ędia) to create a new Quebec-only political party to be known as “Forces et Democratie” (see: "Fourth Quebec MP quits federal NDP to form newparty with ex-Bloc MP”, the Canadian Press, October 21, 2014).

On the surface, this story probably has little resonance with most Greens. The Quebec ridings in question aren't likely to be in play for our Party in 2015, and if anything, should the new Party start to catch on a little bit, the effect it might have in Quebec might simply be to fracture the vote even further, which, generally speaking, could be a good thing for Greens, if we had the ability to seize on that opportunity in Quebec (which I don't see at the moment, but that's subject to change based on the candidates that the Party recruits). No, this story seems to be more of an indictment of the New Democrats (who can't seem to keep their caucus from shrinking) and the Bloc (is that Party still around?). And while the story may be that, the fact of the matter is that this is very bad news for the Green Party of Canada.

After two Bloc MP's quit their Party earlier this year over a lack of confidence in their new Leader Mario Beaulieu, I wrote about “Whata Bloc Collapse Might Mean for the Green Party of Canada” (Sudbury Steve, August 25, 2014), and took the position that a BQ Party in decline could pose a threat to the Green Party for a very singular reason. I worked through (what I thought at the time to be) a number of permutations, twisting myself up like a pretzel to demonstrate the risk. What I didn't want to write about was the very scenario which appears to be happening today – the rise of a brand new regional political party with sitting Members of Parliament.

Thwarting Democracy: The Money Game

When Forces et Democratie officially registers itself as a political party, both Jean-Francois's will be able to start collecting money from supporters for a re-election bid next year. As an Independent, Fortin couldn't actually receive political contributions (which can only be made to a political party or a division of a political party, such as an Electoral District Association). As an MP about to lose a nomination contest in Repitiginy (if the CP article is to be believed), Larose would have had to run either under the banner of another party, or as an Independent – and if the latter, he would have found himself in the same situation as Fortin: unable to raise (and spend) money until the writ is dropped next year. Given this circumstance, is it any wonder that these two have come together to form a new Party?

And so Forces et Democratie appears to be the off-spring of two uninspiring MP's who aspire to be re-elected – and Canada's archaic anti-democratic election laws which favour organized political parties over individual, independent representation.

To me, what's surprising is that this move took as long as it did, at least for Fortin. Maybe the two Jean-Francois's will be joined by the other two dissident Bloc MP's, Marie Mourani (kicked out of the Bloc caucus over her disagreement with the PQ's Charter of Values) and Andre Bellevance (who left the Bloc shortly after Fortin). It seems that the two sitting Bloc MP's, Louis Plamondon and (former NDP-turned Bloc MP) Claude Patry will continue to sit in the House as BQ Members of Parliament.

It remains to be seen if the Forces et Democratie Party will ever be a serious political entity, or whether it's been created simply to fuel the electoral ambitions of the two Jean-Francois's. What surprises me, however, is the fact that Independents hadn't already come together to create a new Party – even if one in name only – simply to help with re-election bids. I've often wondered whether an “Independent Party” could have legs as a money-raising operation centred on local electoral districts. Its creation could be a paper exercise – no fuss and bother about policy or holding national conventions. Just a meeting of the minds of Independents in ridings across the nation, with a nominal Leader appointed to fulfil Elections Canada requirements. EDAs could be created to raise and spend money to further the re-election chances of sitting Independent MP's and maybe some others who aspire to challenge the Party system.

Anyway, maybe that's kind of what we're seeing today, only regionally-based.

Composition of the House

So, how does this affect the Green Party of Canada at all? Well, I'll finally spell out why the creation of an obscure regional political party with uninspiring MP's is a massive threat to the Green Party of Canada's electoral chances in 2015. At some point in the near future, when Fortin and Larose get their act together and make the FED Party (sorry, guys, that's probably not the best acronym for your new enterprise, given your “Quebec” focus – but it is what it is) a reality, here's what the composition of the House will look like in terms of political parties:

We'll have the Conservative Party, the NDP, and the Liberals – all of which have “official” party standing in the House, because they've elected MP's above and beyond the 12 MP threshold for official party status.

Then, there will be the Green Party (2 MP's), the Bloc Quebeois (2 MP's) and Forces et Democratie (2 MP's) – all three will be recognized as political parties in the House, although they will not have “official” party standing.

Finally, there will be a few Independent MP's (Mourani, Bellevance and Brent Rathgeberger) and one Independent-Conservative MP (I think he calls himself) in Dean Del Mastro.

Televised Leaders Debates

Fast-forward to next year. The Prime Minister asks the Governor-General to dissolve parliament. The writ is dropped, and the race is on. All of Canada's political parties are jockeying for position. A critical test of leadership appears on the horizon in the form of the televised leader's debates, one in each of Canada's official languages. All of the political party leaders are invited by the Broadcast Consortium....

Oh wait. No their not. Just Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau.

But what about historical precedent? In the past, every political party which had an MP sitting in the House at the time of its dissolution (including those whom had not been formally recognized by the House) has been invited to attend the leaders debates. At times, this has meant that as many as 5 registered party leaders have sparred with another. Most recently, 5 leaders appeared on stage together in 2008, when Stephen Harper faced off against Liberal Leader Stephane Dion, the NDP's Jack Layton, the BQ's Gilles Duceppe and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. Late last century, Liberal and NDP leaders went head-to-head with the Bloc, and the leaders of the Progressive Conservative and Reform parties.

Many have been critical of this approach, claiming that the number of leaders on stage makes for bad television, and is a disservice to our democracy in that inevitably it's pretty much impossible that one or more of the leaders will never be Prime Minister (the Bloc has only ever run candidates in Quebec, and the Green Party only elected its first MP in 2011).

To my knowledge, Canada has never seen 6 party leaders share the same stage. But if the Broadcast Consortium is going to decide whom to invite based on historical precedent, that's what Canada will get in 2015 when the FED joins the fray.

So, we'll have the leaders of four truly national party sharing the same stage with a tiny rump-regional Bloc Quebecois's Mario Beaulieu, an un-elected leader, and whomever the FED decides to identify as Leader (and if the two Jean-Francois's are serious about re-election, it's almost going to have to be one of them, in order to gain a level of national exposure for their fledgeling initiative). Four truly national political figures sharing the stage with two leaders most of Canada has never heard of and who lead parties which most Canadians can't vote for? Can you imagine?

I can't. Simply put, it's not going to happen. The Broadcast Consortium is in all likelihood going to abandon precedent and establish some new criteria for inviting leaders to the debate. And just what do you think that criteria is going to include? With three political parties of 2 members each, the Consortium will establish a higher threshold for participation. Canada will get to hear from Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau, the leaders of “official” parties in the House – and that'll be it.

As I wrote back in August, the presence of a depleted BQ Party at least gave me some hope that May would be invited to the debates. But the presence of two tiny Quebec-focused regional parties is pretty much going to be the nail in the coffin for her participation – unless of course Greens can somehow make a case that May should be there because the Party is running candidates in all ridings, and at least theoretically (but really just more mathematically) the possibility exists that the Greens could form government and May could become Prime Minister.

It's a stretch. The presence of candidates in all ridings has never been a criteria for participation. We Greens ran candidates across the nation in 2006 and 2011, and our leaders weren't heard from. In the past, the Bloc and Reform parties have participated even though not all Canadians could cast their ballots for candidates from those parties.

Democracy Denied

While the Bloc and the FED might kick up a fuss, not many are going to care about their absence from the televised debates. Indeed, the Liberals and the NDP would be pleased to have the Bloc shut out of any opportunity to grow its vote in Quebec. And honestly, can you imagine Tom Mulcair consenting to share the same stage as Jean-Francois Larose after he crossed the floor? Sorry, but it's not going to happen.

If Forces et Democratie can't participate in the leaders debate, the Bloc will be absent as well. And if the Bloc is absent, there's really no compelling reason for the consortium to invite the Greens.

And if Elizabeth May is once again denied the opportunity to speak directly to Canadian voters, there stands a very real chance that the Green Party's electoral ambitions will likely amount to little, again. The national exposure of May in the leader's debate is political manna for our upstart party. While we Greens may win a few ridings, the chance to really turn some heads in 2015 will be denied us because an unelected and unaccountable Broadcast Consortium failed (again) to invite our leader to participate in the televised debates. And because the Liberals and the NDP will have (once again) went along with this anti-democratic decision – putting their own partisanship above what's good for Canada and what's good for democracy. Just as the Liberals and the NDP did in 2011 when May was left out of the debates.

And that's why today's news about two obscure Members of Parliament in Quebec is bad news for the Green Party of Canada.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)

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