This column was published in today’s edition of the St. City News.
If Peter Johnston wasn’t cheering Monday night, he darn well should’ve been. By Wednesday, he should have been close to ecstatic! A bunch of guys he almost certainly doesn’t know in Ontario had just done him a really huge favour.
Johnston is the Green Party’s candidate here in Edmonton-St. Albert. The guys in Ontario are the political leaders and TV network execs who decided to deny Green Party Leader Elizabeth May a spot in the Oct. 1-2 leaders’ debates, then chickened out and let her back in. The favour was the instant credibility these two bonehead plays bestowed on a political fringe party whose support up to now has been a mile wide and an inch deep.
Johnston may not be the best candidate running in Edmonton-St. Albert – it’s hard to say because it’s darn hard to find out anything about him, even with the miracle of Google.
He may not even be the candidate with the greenest credentials – arguably that’s New Democrat Dave Burkhart, former Chair of the Big Lake Environmental Support Society and now the treasurer of BLESS, a guy you can’t get to shut up about the environment!
But the installer of flooring – environmentally sustainable wood flooring, presumably – who polled only 3,520 votes in 2004, will almost certainly do better this time because of sympathy for the Greens generated by the first dubious debate decision.
This wasn’t the conventional wisdom of Canada’s professional political pundits, of course. Their line was that Ms. May’s best chance was to be part of the televised leadership debate. “Entry into the leaders’ debate must remain her guiding objective,” Paul Martin’s former communications director solemnly told the Globe and Mail hours before the first dumb decision.
Like most pundits’ pronouncements, this was pure horse pucky. Who watches leadership debates? No normal citizen has watched a political debate all the way through since the invention of the TV remote. Most Canadians’ eyes glaze over about halfway through Question 2, and the surfing begins soon after.
Far more Canadians than ever would have watched the debate noticed the essential unfairness of the old boys’ club shutting out the female leader of a party with a nationwide slate of candidates that’s outpolling the NDP in key ridings in Ontario. Many will register their protest by voting Green. That the engaging Ms. May is now back in the debate means that she can eat her cake and have it too.
I’m not suggesting this means Johnston will win here in St. Albert. If the Conservatives dropped an atomic bomb on Alberta, the survivors would crawl out of the rubble and vote Conservative. Brent Rathgeber won the election that counted when he was narrowly nominated as the Conservative candidate back in March 2007.
But Johnston will do better than he might otherwise have done.
This works for Prime Minister Harper, of course, which is probably why he engineered the whole thing. Every sympathy vote that goes to the Greens – who are still a marginal force nationwide – is a vote that won’t be going to the Green Shift Liberals or the Climate Change Accountability NDP, two political parties that actually could deny the prime minister the majority he covets.
The sympathy vote may be particularly strong in Alberta ridings like ours where the result is a foregone conclusion long before Election Day. Lots of St. Albert voters who could never support the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be looking for a place to park their vote. In the wake of this week’s television tempest, many will park it with Peter Johnston – whoever he happens to be.