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Judge denies Elizabeth May's bid to join leaders' debates

Green Party leader Elizabeth May reacts while commenting on her exclusion from the televised leaders debate during the Canadian federal election in Vancouver, British Columbia March 30, 2011.

REUTERS/Andy Clark/REUTERS/Andy Clark

Green party Leader Elizabeth May has been thwarted in her last-ditch effort to get in to next week's televised leaders' debates.

Federal Court judge Marc Nadon decided not to make an emergency ruling on the case before the nationally televised discussions get underway on Tuesday.

The short period of time wouldn't allow the court "to perform its duty in a satisfactory manner," he said, adding that he would provide the reasons for his decision on Friday.

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It was a big blow for the Greens, who got a major blast of publicity when Ms. May participated in the debates during the 2008 federal election.

"We're really disappointed that the court has made this decision, but there's another court that matters and that's the court of public opinion," said Green party spokeswoman Camille Labchuk.

"The court of public opinion has been very clear on this: Canadians want the Green party in the debates. It's about democracy."

The party will "look at its options" before deciding whether to continue with the court case, said Labchuk. But it will keep trying to include Ms. May in the debates if the broadcasters' consortium continues to shut her out.

"If it looks like the consortium is going to maintain this position, we'll be considering other legal steps," she said.

The Greens were seeking a judicial review of a CRTC policy that says broadcasters do not have to include all political parties in debates.

The consortium, which runs the debates, insisted that only parties with seats in the last House of Commons can participate.

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Lawyer Peter Rosenthal, who represented the Greens in court, argued the guidelines used to decide who can participate in the debates are "constitutionally deficient" and change with every election.

He asked the judge to hear the case next Monday, a day before the April 12 English-language debate. The French-language debate will take place April 14.

Phil Tunley, a lawyer for the consortium, argued the case was far too complex to be rushed.

"Clearly - and the court accepted - that it would be very difficult to give the issues the full consideration that they should have," said Mr. Tunley.

"I think that's the argument that seems to have been most important in the judge's decision."

Mr. Rosenthal said he would like to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada, but it isn't "realistic" considering the debates are just a week away.

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The consortium should have a say in who's included in the debates, but excluding Ms. May is simply wrong, he said.

"There must be some guidelines that prohibit such an affront to democracy as having a leader of a party with 6.8 per cent of the vote not even participating in the major event of the campaign," Mr. Rosenthal said.

"That, in my view, is unconstitutional."

In 2008, the consortium reversed its initial decision to exclude May from the debates when Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Jack Layton backed off a threatened boycott should she be invited.

This time around, Mr. Layton and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff have both said they support Ms. May's inclusion. Mr. Harper, too, has suggested he's not opposed to her participation.

Marco Dube, a spokesman for the consortium, acknowledged Tuesday's court ruling but declined to comment on it.

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