UPDATE, April 14: Green party leader Elizabeth May tweeted today that she has been invited to take part in the debates.
The party received an invitation to a planning meeting, and Green party spokesman Julian Morelli said the media consortium that organizes the debates "made it clear that if you're invited to the meeting you are part of the debate... That was my understanding." (Click here to read the invitation)
Morelli told HuffPost Canada he expects those at the meeting will discuss details like the format of the debate and the duration.
"It's the first meeting to start discussing those type of options," he said.
The Liberal leader spoke with May on Wednesday and said the Grits plan to argue for her participation in this year’s federal election debates, she told The Huffington Post Canada.
“It makes me happy,” she said. “He said he had two reasons: One was that he thinks we need to make sure that the environment gets discussed and debated adequately in the debates and for that he thinks I should be there.
“The other [reason], which I really like, is that his daughter will be watching her dad in the debate, and he doesn’t want her to think it’s a boys-only thing to be in public life,” May said.
“He wants her to see there is a place at the table for women leaders.”
UPDATE, April 9: On Thursday, HuffPost confirmed Elizabeth May's chief of staff Debra Eindiguer and Thomas Mulcair's chief of staff Alain Gaul had what the NDP described as a "cordial" conversation. Eindiguer said the two had a "good conversation" and planned to keep in touch. She did not, nor did the NDP, say whether Mulcair had agreed to support the Green party leader's bid to be in the election debates. The Greens also tweeted this tally:
The Green leader said she decided to call the offices of Trudeau and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair Wednesday to seek their support after more media articles surfaced over the Easter weekend about whether she will be excluded from the televised national debates.
May said Trudeau’s support did not come with any conditions and that the Greens and Liberals did not trade any favours. “There was no quid pro quo and no discussion of anything in return,” she said.
In an interview published Tuesday, May criticized Trudeau strongly for not agreeing to participate in a leaders’ debate on women’s equality with her. She told The Georgia Straight that she was surprised he had not agreed and that she was “horrified” the Liberals were supporting the Tories’ controversial anti-terrorism bill, C-51.
Trudeau’s office confirmed Wednesday evening that he spoke with May and that he believes she should have a seat at the table, both in the negotiations with the media consortium and in the debates.
In 2008, with one Green MP in the Commons, May was included in the election debates only after a public outcry. In 2011, the Greens had no MPs in the House and May was excluded. She told HuffPost, however, that she believes she was snookered because the political parties argued privately with the media consortium that she shouldn’t be included.
May said she was encouraged to feel that Trudeau’s support means that won’t happen again. She also said she still hopes to talk to Mulcair.
Trudeau is the first political party leader to publicly throw his support behind May. He and Mulcair were both coy in February when asked by HuffPost whether May should be included in the high-profile election debates.
Since then, an EKOS poll suggested that the vast majority of Canadians want to see her included.
In the March poll, 78 per cent of Liberal voters and 85.5 per cent of New Democrat voters said they believe May should be part of the debates. Fifty-four per cent of Conservatives surveyed said they also want to see the Green party leader in the mix.
“By a margin of nearly three-to-one, (68 per cent to 24 per cent), Canadians feel she should be allowed in,” EKOS noted.
“What is perhaps most striking is that this view is shared by Canadians of every political stripe, with majorities of each party’s supporters backing May’s admission to the debate,” the polling firm said.
On Feb. 25, Trudeau told reporters he looked forward to having discussions with the media consortium, a group of television networks that sets the ground rules for the debates after negotiating with the political parties.
“Right now, it’s too early to say who should be in,” he said when asked by HuffPost about May’s presence.
Mulcair told reporters that day that the decision about whether May should be included or not was something that was “completely left up to the consortium.”
“I will follow whatever they decide,” he said.
After The Huffington Post Canada reported their comments, the Greens launched a social media drive called “Stand Up For Democracy” as well as a mailout campaign that asked supporters to sign a petition demanding May’s inclusion.
“What are they afraid of?” the Green party asked in an ad featuring pictures of Mulcair, Harper and Trudeau with big question marks.
The party said approximately 60,000 people signed its petition.
Mulcair’s office said that May contacted the NDP leader’s office late Wednesday afternoon and that her chief of staff would speak with Mulcair’s chief of staff Thursday.
“Mr. Mulcair has already accepted an invitation for a debate involving Ms. May, something the other leaders have unfortunately yet to do,” Mulcair’s principal secretary, Karl Bélanger, said in an email, referring to the women’s equality debate.
Privately, NDP sources have confided that the party would prefer a showdown with only Harper and Trudeau.
Conservative party spokesman Cory Hann said Wednesday that the Tories were looking forward to debates that would highlight the choice between “the strong, serious leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, or the high-risk, high-tax, high-debt agenda of Justin Trudeau.” Hann didn’t mention May, Mulcair or any other leader.
May told HuffPost that she was under the impression that, with two MPs in the House, her presence in this year’s election debates would not be questioned. She was caught by surprise by Trudeau and Mulcair’s reactions in February.
The presence of two other parties with equal representation in the Commons, the Bloc Québécois and the newly formed Quebec party Forces et Démocratie, may complicate matters slightly for the Green Party. The Bloc wants to be present in any debates while Forces et Démocratie believes it should get a place in the French-language debates.
It is still unclear what the debate format will be and who will participate. The media consortium has not met officially yet, and negotiations with the parties have not started, spokeswoman Liliane Lê confirmed Wednesday.
“Until we are closer to an election call, the consortium will have no comments on the format of any potential election debates.”
May said she hopes to be invited to their first meeting.
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