Liberals bar press from leaders debate – Is the Party a Private Club?

The Liberal party is clearly of the view that the “business of the public is not the publics’ business.” On Sunday November 16/08 the Party barred the media and the public from a Leaders debate making it clear that the Liberal postion is that only party members should participate in the political process.

Full details may be found here:

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/s/capress/081116/national/liberal_leadership_16

See the video here:

http://cosmos.bcst.yahoo.com/up/player/popup/index.php?cl=10701757

For the Globe and Mail see here:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20081116.wliberalleadership1116/BNStory/National/home/

Comments in the Globe and Mail see here:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20081116.wliberalleadership1116/CommentStory/National/home

According to Bob Rae as reported in the National Post:

“You can’t have a town hall meeting without the town. … To me its unthinkable to have this kind of meeting, this kind of debate without the prescence of the public, without the prescence of the media. I’ve never participated in a political debate without the participation of the media.”

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“Rae, Ignatieff in spat over Liberal candidates’ debate


By Maria Babbage, The Canadian Press

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – Federal Liberal leadership hopeful Bob Rae made good on his threat Sunday to boycott the party’s closed-door all-candidates’ forum if chief rival and former college roommate Michael Ignatieff didn’t agree to lift the veil of secrecy.

Rae put in an appearance at the suburban hotel west of Toronto where the meeting was taking place, but spun on his heel and left shortly after he finished talking to members of the media, who remained barred from the event.

“I don’t think it’s right to have a debate that doesn’t include the public and doesn’t include the media,” Rae said.

“You can’t have a town hall without the town.”

Rae warned late Saturday that he wouldn’t participate in the debate, blaming the Ignatieff camp for trying to keep a lid on the session. Ignatieff later insisted he was merely trying to follow the party’s own rules.

The party, however, said it would be willing to open up the debate if all three candidates agreed. Ignatieff was the only holdout.

The Liberals must conduct the leadership race in full view of the public if the party hopes to boost public support and return to power in Ottawa, Rae said to cheers from a gathered entourage of supporters.

He even went so far as to suggest the party follow the lead of the race for the Democratic nomination in the U.S. and host public, televised debates once a week for the duration of the leadership race.

“It’s very healthy to have a debate,” he said.

“I think there were 20 debates between Senator Obama and Senator Clinton. There were 20. And they were all in public and they were all on television. Somehow, Senator Obama managed to overcome that and win the election, what do you know?”

Rae, Ignatieff and New Brunswick MP Dominic LeBlanc were all scheduled to appear Sunday in Toronto at a question-and-answer session before members of the executive board of the federal party’s Ontario wing.

The Ignatieff camp said it had understood from the start that it was to be a private session, but Rae said that came as news to him. He said he and LeBlanc agreed Saturday to open the meeting up, but Ignatieff’s handlers balked at the idea.

“Let’s be clear: I don’t set the rules. Leadership candidates don’t set the rules. They were set by the party a couple of weeks ago, and I was fine with them,” Ignatieff said.

“The party decided, ‘Let’s have a family discussion,’ so I said fine and we’ll have other discussions in future.”

Leblanc, meanwhile, pounced on the chance to score some early points against the two perceived front-runners.

“Their game hasn’t even started, and they’re at each other’s throats,” Leblanc said.

“I think that’s unfortunate. I think Liberals are tired of that sort of ‘me too’ attitude. I think they expect people to be mature and open, and that’s why I’m here.”

Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett, who hasn’t aligned herself with any of the three candidates, characterized the spat as “healthy.”

“I think everybody knows that we can’t afford a bitter race,” she said.

“I think the candidates themselves have decided it won’t be a bitter race. We need to make sure their overzealous supporters aren’t writing the attack ads for the Conservatives for the next election.”

Others seemed eager to brush the whole matter under the carpet.

“The most important thing to me is that Liberals must not fight Liberals,” said John McCallum.

“Our opponent is Stephen Harper. Our opponent is not ourselves. So I’m hoping that this incident will dissapate and that we can go forward in a more collegial way.”

It’s the first public spat between candidates vying to replace Stephane Dion, who announced following the party’s disastrous election showing that he would step down as leader as soon as a successor can be chosen. The Liberals will make their choice at a convention in Vancouver next spring.

Many in the party had hoped to avoid the kind of sniping that characterized the hard-fought campaign in which Dion come up the middle to win as a compromise candidate in 2006, after neither Rae nor Ignatieff could take a clear majority.”