“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
When this famous quote was uttered by François-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire, the Enlightenment period French philosopher, one of those who inspired the French Revolution in 1789, representative democracy was practised only in Great Britain in a substantially restricted fashion as compared to today.
The political establishment of the era did not have the giant machinery of contemporary politics, with finely tuned rules, regulations, bylaws alongside campaign managers, opinion polls and TV debates. Yet, there were men, like Voltaire, who could defend the right of any idea to be propagated without limitations.
Fast forward some 230 years, Canada, one of the leading democracies in the world, is in the throes of a debate over whether Green Party leader Elizabeth May should be allowed to take part in the nationally televised debate of the political leaders.
By the time these lines have been printed, the debate, in English, will have taken place without Ms. May among those taking part.
No one ever doubts that our election on May 2 will be free and fair, but I am afraid the campaign leading to the voting day can be described anything but fair, because of this brazen indifference to the principle of equality.
If Green Party has fulfilled all the requirements to be included in this federal election, and as such, if the party is entitled to ask the electorate for their votes by explaining its platform, how come Ms. May is excluded from the debate?
The managers of consortium of broadcasters who made the decision to exclude the Green Party from the debate should be ashamed of themselves because their decision is no different from similar edicts issued by strong men, be it in Belarus, or Venezuela or Uzbekistan, where the limitations to freedom of expression are never questioned.
The head of the consortium who made the decision to leave Green Party outside the debate was quoted as saying that Ms. May was included in the debate before the last election because at the time the party had one seat in the parliament.
I could not think of a worse pretext to deny the Green Party the right to appeal to the public from the same platform as the other party leaders: This campaign is about the next parliament, not the outgoing one.
If we are to be constrained in our choice to listen to only the parties represented at the House of Commons, what kind of freedom of expression are we talking about in one of the leading democracies of the world?
A fair election campaign should mean a level playing field to all parties that are listed on the ballots.
And in a democratic society, election laws should make sure that broadcasters are not the ones who decide what electorate will and will not hear in a nationally televised election platform.
It’s a pity that none of the four leaders could be as brave as Voltaire to withdraw from the debate to protest Ms. May’s exclusion.