On this day in history…

…a woman named Deb Grey became the first elected Reform party MP. On March 13th, 1989 Grey was elected by the constituents of the federal riding of Beaver River in Northern Alberta.

Affectionately called the “Iron Snowbird” by constituents and supporters Grey won the 1989 by-election just months after finishing fourth place in the previous General Election. The riding was vacated due to the death of John Dahmer, a PC MP in the Mulroney government.

At the time, she was described as a better communicator than most politicians by Preston Manning, the leader of the new Reform Party which had only formed 16 months earlier. Her common sense communication style likely rooted from her profession as a school teacher, her job before being sent to Ottawa to represent Beaver River.

Her campaign reflected much of the populism for which the party became famous, including taking a letter from the residents of Beaver River to the Central Bank over inflation caused by overspending in Central Canada. Particularly memorable for people that worked on her campaign was the “cavalcade of cars” dressed up in Reform colours which assembled from all points in the riding, from neighbouring regions and indeed from all corners of Alberta to distribute literature throughout the riding to promote their candidate. Grey also took advantage of growing Western anger with Mulroney’s government and famously warned Mulroney “beware the Ides of March, because Beaver River has a surprise for you.” She was also able to gain support by attending the PC nomination battle and introducing herself between the ballots of that contentious meeting. Logically, some supporters of losing candidates saw a better choice in Grey.

After carrying the Reform banner to Ottawa, Grey served as deputy leader, interim Opposition leader (only female leader of the opposition in history). She also had the pleasure of having her coffee made and office plants watered by the current Prime Minister; Stephen Harper was her first legislative assistant.

That time when I met Elizabeth May

This week I also met Elizabeth May. The leader of the Green Party was in high spirits that day despite Garth Turner’s betrayal of everyone (conservatives, constituents, May and the Greens) just a few hours earlier. Turner campaigned for May in London North Centre, teased us all by telling us that he was considering “going Green”. He even turned his back on his constituents, which during a townhall in Halton, about 1 in 4 told Garth to go Green while not one told him to go Liberal.

Anyway, this post is about Elizabeth May. Unfortunately, we didn’t have too much time to chat.

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It would be interesting to see May in a debate with party leaders during an election. However, should a party have at least one elected (or sitting) MP in order to have such a platform? What is your opinion?

If I remember correctly, Reform was allowed to debate only after Deb Grey won a by-election. If Turner had gone Green, he would have been a sitting, yet unelected Green MP. What should the threshold be? Also, consider that the laws governing the identity of a “party” have changed since 1989 when Grey became the first Reform MP.

You’ll find Liberals advocating that May should be allowed to debate because the Green vote is thought to cut into NDP support. NDPers thus are less likely to support the idea. Since Conservatives are depending on the NDP to split the left, they’re more likely to support the NDP position.

What may be certain though, is that we ought to have clear guidelines for Green Party inclusion in a televised debate.

BUT… this brings us to another topic to consider. The national networks are largely in charge of debate format and the participants invited and their decisions are largely subjective and outside of parliamentary review and jurisdiction. If a debate were held in a different forum (and medium — say… online) who would accept an invitation to debate and on what terms? If Harper, Dion, Duceppe and May accepted an invitation, would Layton turn down the opportunity to debate?

Is there such thing as an “official” debate?

Appointments this week: Senate and GG

Paul Martin has appointed five new senators to the Upper Chamber this week. Three Liberals and two Conservative received their golden tickets and will sit in the Big Red Room when the Senate sits resumes later this year.

The new Senators are:
Larry Campbell, Vancouver mayor (Liberal)
Hugh Segal, former PC leadership candidate, Policy CEO and Queen’s prof (Conservative)
Andée Champagne, PC cabinet minister (Conservative)
Dennis Dawson, non-remarkable MP (Liberal)
Rod Zimmer, businessman and Liberal fundraiser (Liberal)

This group is pretty much as expected (disappointing and satisfying at the same time). It’s good to see Mr. Segal in the Senate.

I’m glad to see that Martin is appointing Conservative senators (Chrétien appointed about 50 senators, (almost) all Liberal (save 3 ind)). The Conservative senators that he just appointed are good choices. Yet, aside from Campbell’s celebrity (he’s an annoying character, in my opinion), the Liberal picks fall short of remarkable.

I’d also like to point out that there haven’t been any senators from the old reform/alliance tradition. This is disappointing. The senate could go far to reduce western alienation and perhaps the only solution in the end is to elect it as a provincial check on federal power.

Next up is Martin’s choice of a Governor General. His decision is to be announced tomorrow. I’m hopeful that perhaps we’ll see some balance here as well. It’s likely that Martin will appoint a francophone to follow the general pattern, but it’s also likely because the Liberals desperately need to curry favour in Québec.

However, I think that either Preston Manning or Deb Grey would make a great GG.