Every election we see the same thing, the fringe parties and their exiguous but dedicated and vocal supporters begin making noise and demanding that their party be represented in the televised debates. It is understandable why these fringe groups want to participate. Many people remain undecided until the debate and use that broadcast as almost their sole means of making up their mind as they have an opportunity to see the leaders of the main parties demonstrate their ability (or lack of) to lead our province. It is because of this importance of the debates that a bar must be set though and we can’t have an important event like this cluttered with the leader of every tiny party in the province participating.
In 2004 it was the Alberta Alliance (now Wildrose) that was protesting and making noise demanding that Randy Thorsteinson be included in the debate. They even had some people waving signs outside of a TV station but to no avail. The broadcasters had set the bar by saying that a party needed an elected member in the legislature in order to participate in the debate. The Alberta Alliance had Edmonton MLA Gary Masyk who had recently crossed the floor to join the Alberta Alliance. The powers that be decided this was not good enough as Masyk had not been elected under the banner of the Alberta Alliance.
The Alberta Alliance was running candidates in all 83 constituencies in that election as well. That still was not enough to sway the broadcasters and the debate was held with only the PC, NDP and Liberal leaders in that election. Fair enough.
Now we come to the latest vocal complainants; the Alberta Party. While their presence on twitter is notable due to them having a handful of prolific posters in their ranks, their impact or even recognition among the Alberta electorate is simply insignificant. The fringe Alberta Party barely registers 1% in Alberta polls, has no member elected under their banner in the legislature, will be lucky to nominate even 30 candidates in the election and as far as can be seen is totally broke. Why on earth should their leader be allowed to take up 20% of the time at the very important debate?
The Alberta Party scored a tiny coup when embittered former Liberal MLA Dave Taylor broke his promise to sit as an independent and crossed the floor to join them. Taylor never got over the Liberal Party’s rejection of him when he ran for the leadership and joining the Alberta Party was his final way of giving the finger to the party that got him elected in the first place. It must be noted, Taylor does not have the gumption or courage to actually run under the Alberta Party banner. He will be taking off with his severance package as soon as the writ drops presumably to try and find another job in broadcasting. At least Masyk was willing to run for the Alberta Alliance after he crossed the floor.
It is pretty clearly established which parties are worth broadcasting to the province in a debate in the coming election. The PCs, Liberals, NDP and Wildrose parties all have members sitting in the legislature that were elected under their own party banner. They are all polling well above the statistical margin of error (no other parties are) and all are clearly in positions to be winning some seats at the least. Aside from the Liberals, all of them will be running significant numbers of candidates in the election. It will be important and interesting to see the leaders of these parties debate. That will not happen if every crackpot leader from the rest of the fringe parties takes part however.
A party can work it’s way from fringe status. What the Alberta Party supporters appear to overlook is that to do so takes years of very hard work. Paul Hinman was tireless as the leader of the Alberta Alliance party as well as many key supporters within the party. With countless meetings across the province, many policy revisions, news events and releases, recruitment of new and strong people and a receptive attitude to mergers and compromise, the party broke free from it’s fringe status and is the contender that we call the Wildrose today.
Essentially what I am saying to the parties at the fringe is if we could do it (get mainstream sized support), you can do it. Until then though, you simply don’t rank a seat at the debates.
Social media does provide for alternatives though. A community hall could be booked and a cage match debate could be held with the leaders of the Social Credit, Communist, Alberta, Evergreen and Separation parties that all want seats in the main debate. This circus could be live streamed and archived on YouTube. It could provide some welcome comic relief in what will doubtless be generally a serious election.
The word that springs to mind when I see fanatical fringe party supporters demanding things is “entitlement”. Face it guys, private broadcasters owe you nothing nor should they. Quit complaining and put your nose to the grindstone. Complaining will never break you free from fringe status but hard work might.