Canadian Politics from Canada's Centre

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Green Party Leadership Debate Notes

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I attended the Green Party's leadership debate yesterday night, contested between leadership candidates David Chernushenko and Elizabeth May. I noted what they were saying along with my impressions. Towards the end, I got some pictures of the candidates and of the debate moderator, though I unfortunately missed a point where they raised each other's hands in the air at the end of the debate (slow shutter speed).
At any rate, here are my notes on the Green Party's leadership candidates' debate that took place last night, Wednesday, June the 14th, here in Montreal.

As I noted in my earlier comments on the debate, I arrived late, so my notes kind of pick up in the middle of things. I hope you'll all (two of you) forgive me. Also, just a preliminary note before beginning: I had difficulty hearing Elizabeth May, as I was sitting at the back of the room and she spoke softly. That's why you may see longer quotations and notes concerning Chernushenko; I'm not favouring one candidate over the other.

Anyways, in response to some question about the fiscal imbalance, Elizabeth May responded (translation follows): "La question importante n'est pas le desequilibre fiscal, mais le desequilibre entre les pauvres." ("The important question is not the fiscal imbalance, but the imbalance between the poor and the rich.") I didn't have a tape recorder, so I'm paraphrasing (I'll try and find the exact words in the video later), but this seemed to show May (M) has sensitivity to a socialist politic similar to the NDP. This trend would show up again later.

The next question asked the candidates for their opinions on Senate reform. Both opposed it.

M said that we needed a proportional representation system (as opposed to the current "first-past-the-post" system which leaves the party of losing candidates with nothing more than funding; millions of votes could be won nationally and no seat be won... which is the Green Party's current situation), and that that was a more important Parliamentary reform.

Chernushenko (C) replied by noting first that the question was a constitutional issue. The importance of that note followed when C said that it would be difficult to effect reform of the Senate.
C also stated his support for Canada's upper house of Parliament, and proposed that the really important reform that needed to be brought to the Hill in Ottawa was to moderate the PMO's power. He noted it wasn't an attack on Harper: "Cela a commence avec Trudeau." ("It started with Trudeau.")
Chernushenko's problem was that (backbench) MPs didn't have sufficient power. "Tout
est deja decide. Le whip decide comment ils vont vote." ("Everything is already decided. The whip decides how they [MPs] will vote.")

In her rebuttal, M chose not to rebutt, but rather to agree and said that in majority circumstances, Canada was governed like a dictatorship.

C's non-rebuttal rebuttal essentially said that the Senate was important, and would hopefully limit Stephen Harper's plans.

Following this, the next question asked whether candidates would put an end to Quebec's forays into foreign affairs, a federal jurisdiction as written in the constitution. Both candidates flip-flopped around and tried to please the crowd here. It wasn't too impressive.

Chernushenko: Il y a "de plus en plus de missions qui sont en parallel." (There are "more and more [trade and other foreign] missions going on in parallel between the federal and Quebec government.") Then he continued to say that this was acceptable because foreigners understood who was speaking for whom. A possible argument, but his answer was too wishy-washy for my tastes. I don't have a position on the issue, but I expect a potential Prime Minister or at least Parliamentary Party leader to take a position.

May: What are each group's objectives? Il n'y a pas "de dommages a la reputation du Canada." ("There are no damages from this to Canada's reputation.") People understand. I didn't know this was about Canada's reputation to begin with! Less confusing the Chernushenko, though.

This question probably caught both candidates a little offguard, and I get the impression they aren't exceedingly familiar with Quebec politics.

My mind wandered at this point as I fiddled with camera settings and considered how to present the debate here at Centrerion Canadian Politics. When I snapped back to reality, David Chernushenko and Elizabeth May were debating leadership of the Green Party, and how they would get an MP elected in the next election.

M advocated a mass-marketing approach, while Chernushenko wanted to do things on a more mano-a-mano basis. I liked both answers, because I think one wouldn't succeed without the other. The mass marketing gives an aura of stature, while the personal approach is the closer that seals the deal and concretizes votes and memberships.

May: I'll be in the debate, and that'll be a breakthrough, "un point tournant." (Literally, "a turning point."

Chernushenko: We need to build a party. With intensity:"Il faut attirer plus de monde. [...] Il faut savoir comment parler aux medias. C'est un question de communication. "On n'a pas encore appris [messy notes here, C said something like "a expliquer"] ce que c'est que d'etre vert en 15 seconds." The general point C made is that he would recruit people on a more personal basis, and noted that the Greens still haven't made an "elevator speech" that explains what being Green is in 15 seconds or less. Sounded like savvy marketing to me, if a bit verbose. I liked the emotion.

M rebuttal: We would have conferences to gain citizens support. We need to become influential and have a strong media and PR strategy.

C rebuttal: Let's get out of our circle of comfort. Il faut aller "aux synagogues, chambres de commerce, aller a Bay Street." That way, when the election comes, the electorate will have heard the Green Party's platform.

Another question on leadership followed. I'll have more notes from the leadership debate posted tomorrow (along with pictures). As a reminder, click the link above (video) to go see Green Party's French language leadership debate at CPAC. It's free!!

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