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The Green Party Leadership Debate

Elizabeth May and David Chernushenko spent a couple of hours this evening having an argreement in French on CPAC about the leadership of the Green Party. I only caught the second half of the debate, but found what I heard to be interesting nevertheless. Jim Fannon is listed on the CPAC website as being in tonight's debate but he was evidentially a no-show, which won't help his chances much.

I haven't exactly been following the Green Party beyond giving it an occasional glance to see what they're up to, but, as every party knows, a leadership race is a good time to catch the public's attention for your party.

My first impression of Ms. May is that she would be an excellent leader of the Green Party for the established parties, and that David Chernushenko would be a decent leader for the Green's own future.

The differences are not blatant, other than in the quality of their respective spoken French, but there are nevertheless differences.

Asked about why the Green Party does not yet have a seat in the House of Commons, May blamed primarily the lack of Green representation in debates during elections. Chernushenko was more philosophical, noting that it is important for the party to get a foothold with one seat before it can expect to be in debates. The party must be built from the grass roots up.

Chernushenko says he believes that what is critical is for the Green Party to, effectively, be campaigning between elections. He says the party must go to synagogues and other places outside the party's main core of support and get its message out, so when election time comes people already know about the Greens and what it is they stand for.

May realised her weak answer and noted that Deborah Grey was elected in a by-election prior to the 1993 election, eventually resulting in her party's win in this year's election. While she doesn't agree with Grey or the Conservative-Reform Alliance Party, it's a strategy that needs to be adopted.

When asked about their opinions on strategic voting, Chernushenko had an excellent line, translated roughly as: There is no point in voting strategically if you don't have a strategy. Our strategy is to build a better country, etc. He says he would not ask any candidate not to run in an election in their riding to prevent, for example, a Conservative candidate from winning.

May's answer to the question was that we need to start voting for people, not against them.

Chernushenko's spoken French was very good, confident, and understandable. He had no trouble that I could see expressing his thoughts.

May's French, on the other hand, can be summarised by this sentence in her closing statement: "Je travaille trs dr pour le parti." It is important when speaking a second language to speak that language, not your own language with the second language's words. If you are speaking French, it is helpful to understand the difference between "connatre" and "savoir", or "dr" and "fort" when those words are the same in English.

I am happy for the Green Party that they were actually able to have unilingual debates. I am a little bit disappointed that the Liberal debate was bilingual, sometimes switching languages every sentence. It is nice for showing off one's linguistic prowess, perhaps, or the weakness of your opponent, but for an audience that is not completely bilingual, it is not helpful.

Having only two candidates also helped the debate stay more focused and give both candidates more of an opportunity to speak at length to each issue, but it also severely reduces the options for the party membership, and reduces the level of debate and exchange of ideas outside of a soundbite-oriented leadership debates.

The next Green Party leadership debate will take place in Calgary in English on June 21st. The next Liberal leadership debate will take place on June 17th in Moncton.

Posted at 20:47 on June 14, 2006

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O Canada in the Commons | leadership politics | Analysis of the June 17th Liberal leadership debate

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