May declares democracy 'alive and well in Canada' after debate row

NEW GLASGOW, N.S. — Fresh off her triumphant inclusion in the televised leaders' debates, a buoyant Elizabeth May has declared democracy "alive and well in Canada."

Speaking in an interview, the Green party leader called the controversy and populist uprising over her initial exclusion from the debates "a real tonic for democracy."

The broadcast consortium that runs the debates said Monday that May was not welcome, saying some leaders opposed her participation.

It was later revealed that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Jack Layton had threatened to boycott the event if she was included.

But both relented Wednesday and the consortium - CBC, Radio-Canada, CTV, Global and TVA - reversed course.

May turned her exclusion into a cause celebre, saying the closed-door discussions and secrecy that surrounded the decision were an insult to democracy and "really offended people."

"I think it's an extremely healthy thing, a real tonic for democracy, regardless of how people are going to vote at the end of the day" she said Thursday.

"I know that a lot of the people who were offended by the fact I was excluded from the debates do not plan to vote Green. But what they did in the interests of democracy was really inspiring."

"I think we have to really celebrate that."

In what was apparently an agreed-upon stance, Harper and Layton had contended that including May would be tantamount to permitting two Liberal candidates.

That's because the Green party leader has repeatedly expressed her preference for Liberal Leader Stephane Dion over Harper as prime minister.

Harper's change of heart on Wednesday came a half-hour after Layton made an about-face, declaring the issue "a distraction."

The NDP leader had been dogged by the controversy after saying May had no place at the table. His position was assailed as hypocritical, even by some of his own supporters.

May acknowledged Thursday there's "no question" the controversy has elevated her campaign, though she holds no illusions about where her party stands in the political mix.

"It's really a new shift in Canadian politics, probably tectonic," she said.

"My most profound hope is that the role of the Greens is to make democracy healthier, whether it benefits us immediately or not."

She said she wants to see respect returned to politics and she urged the other parties to "get past all this negative (advertising) and mud-slinging."

"Canadians are sick of it," she said. "And if we want to get people back and engaged and voting, politicians have to behave themselves to earn the respect of the voter."

She said she hopes to make the debates "a whole lot more entertaining."

"I hope to make them spontaneous. I hope to get the other leaders off their pre-scripted sound bites and well-rehearsed arching of eyebrows at just the right moment," she said.

"They're not fooling anyone with presentations in debates that have been so well-rehearsed that you can just feel how tightly controlled and scripted it is."

She said she wants to draw the other leaders out into revealing "what they really think."

Said May: "This can't be an exercise in which party has the better focus groups, better polling, and better marketing of ideas that they want to use just to get elected to do something different later."

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