Canada’s Charter of Rights – Political Debates and #TorCen Debates

In this article NDP Candidate Linda McQuaig criticizes Liberal Candidate Chrystia Freeland and Conservative Candidate Geoff Pollock for avoiding Toronto Centre Debates. Although her criticisms may be legitimate, it is worth reminding Ms. McQuaig and the NDP that Jack Layton himself did not participate in Toronto Danforth Debates – while at the same time saying about candidates who skip debates that:

“I’d heard that it’s a malady that seems to be sweeping across the Conservative candidates across the country,” he said.

“I think that the best way to deal with it is to replace them in government so they can go back and get some bed rest, or whatever is required.”

The article referenced in the above tweet by Marc Weisblott includes:

Now, the McQuaig campaign wants to draw attention to the fact that three debates scheduled for this month were cancelled because Freeland declined to participate — while Conservative candidate Geoff Pollack also decided to sit them out on the grounds that their specific focus on the environment, culture and higher education was too narrow.

The decision by both major parties to decline participation has allowed the NDP to appear they are not targeting the Liberals in particular, even though Conservative support remains limited in this long-time Liberal riding.

It’s interesting that earlier in the campaign – October 24, 2013 to be exact – Ms. Freeland (in a rather sanctimonious tone) tweeted:

Note that Ms. Freeland emphasizes the need for #TorCen “Voters” to hear from all “parties”. Interesting. If the focus is on the voters (and it should be) then isn’t there a need to hear from all “candidates”.

Does Ms. Freeland believe that only mainstream political parties have legitimacy in the political process? What about “small party candidates”? What about “Independent candidates“? (The Green Party has only one seat in Parliament. There is more than one “independent” in Parliament.)

A clue into Ms. Freeland’s attitude comes from another tweet earlier today.

Here we see Ms. Freeland standing with either three or four of the eleven Toronto Centre candidates. The tweet links to – two so called “All” candidates debates on Chrystia Freeland’s  website. These are NOT “All Candidates” debates for the simple reasons that:

1. Not all of the candidates have been invited to participate (as of this moment at least seven of the eleven candidates have NOT been invited to participate in either debate); and

2. I strongly suspect that NOT all of the INVITED candidates will participate.

Wasn’t it Ms. Freeland who said that Toronto Centre voters should hear from all candidates parties?

The fact is that “all candidates”, with the exception of the main parties are being deliberately excluded from the Toronto Centre debates.

According to Voters Echo, the organizer of the November 20 Toronto Centre debate at Jarvis Collegiate justified the exclusion of the majority of Toronto Centre candidates from  a Toronto Centre “All Candidates Debate” as follows:

As we discussed, our group decided some time ago to invite individuals or parties who achieved a 5% share of the vote in the last election. This was after much discussions and deliberations within our organizing group. This was not in any way an attempt to exclude but rather a desire to balance the amount of time available during the debate against a genuine desire to including of all running candidates.

Judge this yourself.

What should those Toronto Centre candidates committed to the democratic process do?

If Ms. Freeland really believes what she says, that the voters should hear from all parties/candidates,  then she should participate ONLY in “All Candidates” debates. (You know what she said on October 24.) She should call on the organizers of all debates to invite all candidates to all Toronto Centre debates!

Epilogue and thoughts of a constitutional nature …

charterofrights

What follows is a comment that I “attempted” to leave to the

http://o.canada.com/news/toronto-centre-byelection-debate-dodging/

article above (but was unable to because of technical difficulties).

The purpose of the comment is to introduce the idea that election debates may be subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (something Trudeau Senior would know about).

—————————————————————————————————–

At a minimum it is clear that Liberal Candidate Chrystia Freeland and Conservative Candidate Geoff Pollock:

– are not eager to participate in debates
– do not feel they have any obligation to participate in candidates debates

In so doing they are demonstrating a contempt for the democratic process.

It is likely that their decisions to not participate (whether their decisions or the decisions of their leaders) are based on political considerations.

That said there is a more important issue at stake. Ms. McQuaig focuses on the fact that Ms. Freeland and Mr. Pollock will not participate in certain debates.

The more important issue is the fact that of eleven Toronto Centre Candidates, at least seven were NOT invited to participate in these debates. In other words, approximately 2/3 of the candidates were denied the opportunity to participate at all.

Surely, the democratic process demands that the electorate have the opportunity to hear from all candidates.

As it currently stands the seven candidates excluded from the three debates – Ms. McQuaig complains about – have NOT been invited to the debates on November 20 and November 21 that Ms. McQuaig invites you to.

Yet, the debates on November 20 and November 21 are actually called “All” Candidates debates. This is obviously ridiculous. They are at best “some” candidates debates because only certain candidates are invited. The “some candidates” are further “watered down” because there is NO guarantee that those candidates invited will even bother to attend.

The Constitution of Canada enshrines certain “democratic rights”. These include the right to run in Federal elections and the right to vote in Federal  elections. To be specific S. 3 of the Charter of Rights states:

“Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.”

The so called “All” candidates debates in Toronto Centre are in violation of the spirit of the Democratic Rights described in the Charter.

Why is this so?

1. The right to vote and the right to run for office should be understood to include a right to learn about candidates and to educate voters. This is recognized in S. 81 of the Canada Elections Act which guarantees that candidates have access to certain private property (apartment buildings and condominiums). If candidates have a right to access voters in apartment complexes (where they may not be receptive to the candidates), shouldn’t candidates have the right to participate in debates – a venue where the voters attend, of their own volition, to learn about candidates?

2. The right to vote should include the right to hear  from the candidates. Chrystia Freeland and Geoff Pollock should not be allowed to avoid debates. They should be required to participate in debates. This is an obligation they owe to the electorate.

It’s time to deliver a message to Canada’s larger and established political parties (hope Mr. Harper and Mr. Trudeau are listening) that democracy is NOT about political parties. Democracy is about the electorate. That’s why “people” are given rights in the Charter and political parties are not.

It’s about the voters stupid!!

When Scott Brown was running for the U.S. Senate he recognized this principle.

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