P.E.I. NDP Leader James Rodd says he is disappointed in the CBC’s decision to limit the televised leaders debate to include only the Liberal and Progressive Conservative parties, and he wants to make a federal and legal issue of it.
Rodd said he plans to go to his federal counterparts in Ottawa, where the NDP holds the position of official Opposition status, and ask them to raise the issue in the House of Commons.
“We want to have this questioned on the floor of Parliament to ensure that public broadcasters give the full and open debates that are required under the democratic system,” said Rodd.
“I was quite disappointed that decision was made … We’ve been on the political scene here since the ’60s and before that in the ’40s under the CCF, (Cooperative Commonwealth Federation). So we’ve had a long history of being involved in elections on P.E.I. and to make an arbitrary position just seems so unfair.”
He issued a news release which stated the party is also considering seeking legal advice on the matter.
Last Thursday, CBC officials informed Rodd, as well as Green Party Leader Sharon Labchuk and Island Party Leader Billy Cann, they were not welcome to participate in the debate, which was scheduled to air on the public broadcaster’s supper-hour show Compass on Sept. 21.
A national media relations spokesperson for the CBC told The Guardian Thursday it was an editorial decision based on a number of factors, including whether the party has a reasonable likelihood of forming government.
Rodd took exception to this reasoning, calling it disrespectful and biased against the NDP.
“CBC managers — whether in Charlottetown, Halifax or Toronto — do not have a magic ball that tells them the outcome of elections,” Rodd is quoted as saying in a news release.
“If they did, they would have known that the New Democratic Party was going to form the official opposition following the May 2 federal election. And that’s certainly not what they — or most other media observers — were saying at the start of that campaign.”
Rodd also applauded PC Leader Olive Crane’s refusal to take part in the debate due to her belief the decision is unfair.
Contacted on the debate issue last Friday, Premier Robert Ghiz said he was definitely not going to participate alone.
He joked that being the only debater would increase his chances of winning the debate.
The premier said he was disappointed to learn the other registered parties were being excluded and had not been notified of the move earlier.
“They were anticipating being included. They were included last election. I think if the CBC really wants to make a policy decision on this they should do it well in advance of the election so that the other parties aren’t caught off guard.”
The premier said he didn’t know what the CBC’s motives were in making its decision.
“It is a decision of the CBC. It’s not a government decision,” he added.
“I’ll respect their jurisdiction in this manner and, like pretty much every other debate, if I can fit it into my schedule I generally like to make that debate. It’s important for democracy.”
Crane said she is demanding that CBC reverse its decision.
“While I would relish the opportunity to solely debate the Liberal leader, all five parties are registered under the rules required by Elections P.E.I. and therefore they all have a right to participate in all public debates,” Crane said.
With files from Transcontinental Media