Party sues over exclusion from broadcast election debates

The Christian Heritage Party – the nation’s sixth-larg­est federal political party – is going to court to ask that all registered parties be included in televised debates this month.

There are 18 registered federal parties and one eligible for registration. The Christian Heritage Party applied to be included in the leaders’ debates on Sept. 11, after the Green Party had been added to the roster, but the consortium of broadcasters organizing the debates turned down the CHP’s request five days later.

CHP officials say the group offered no reason for the refusal.

“A democracy requires an in­formed electorate,” CHP lead­er Ron Gray said in a press release. “That means they must know about the philosophies and policies of all the parties. Limiting their information to only the biggest [parties] im­pairs the democratic pro­cess.”

The CHP noted that a 2003 Supreme Court decision stresses the important role smaller parties play an in the democratic process, even if they cannot offer “a government option,” by raising issues the major parties may not want to discuss.

“That certainly applies to the CHP,” Gray said. “Our platform includes many issues the big parties would rather avoid, as well as fresh and innovative proposals on problems they’re still debating in old terms.”

The CHP’s brief in federal court states that if the five radio and television networks give free time to only the largest parties, that free time becomes a campaign donation. Under the revisions made to the Elec­tions Act three years ago, donations to political parties by corporations are illegal.

 The CHP leader said the party’s legal counsel has ad­vised him that a preferential assignment of free air time to the bigger parties violates provisions in both the Elections Act and the Broadcasting Act.

“If they include all parties, it’s News coverage. But if they favour only some parties … it’s a gift-in-kind worth millions of dollars,” Gray said.