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Green Party Leader Elizabeth May speaking in Vancouver, March 30, 2011. (ANDY CLARK/ANDY CLARK/REUTERS)
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May speaking in Vancouver, March 30, 2011. (ANDY CLARK/ANDY CLARK/REUTERS)

Most Canadians want Elizabeth May at leaders' debate, poll shows Add to ...

A majority of Canadians believe it is wrong to deny Green Party Leader Elizabeth May a seat at the federal party leaders debate, a recent poll suggests.

Nearly half - 48 per cent - of those surveyed over the past weekend by Nanos Research for The Globe and Mail said they support Ms. May's inclusion in the pair of televised faceoffs among party leaders scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday of next week. Another 13 per cent said they "somewhat support" allowing her to take part.

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That compares with the just 19 per cent of respondents who said they would oppose having Ms. May at the table, and a further 9 per cent who said they were "somewhat opposed."

The poll comes as Ms. May and the Green Party prepare to go to the Federal Court of Appeal to challenge the ruling by the consortium of television broadcasters that decided she would not be one of the debaters.

Although Green Party supporters were naturally more likely to say they wanted Ms. May to take part in the debate than those whose political leanings lie elsewhere, the poll suggests that the sentiment was shared by voters of all stripes. Conservatives were least likely to say she should have been given the thumbs up, but even 39 per cent of Tory voters said they want her there.

"What it's showing is that there is definite sympathy to have Green Party Leader Elizabeth May in the federal leaders debate," Nik Nanos, president of Nanos research, said Monday. "Even among Conservative supporters, the intensity may not be as strong but it is still there. These views generally cut across all demographic groups and regions."

Ms. May said Monday in a telephone interview with The Globe that the poll reflects what other surveys have been saying. "I think it's safe to say that based on a majority of polling that's been done, a majority of Canadians want the Green Party to be at the table at the national leaders debate," she said.

Troy Reeb, the vice-president of news for Shaw Media and chairman of the consortium of top newsroom executives at CBC/Radio-Canada, CTV, Global and TVA, said Ms. May's exclusion was an editorial decision.

"There was a really vigorous discussion this time as well, but on the Green Party question we very quickly came to unanimity," Mr. Reeb said.

Ms. May was included in the last leaders debate, but that was because her party had a sitting MP, Mr. Reeb said. Blair Wilson joined the Greens after being elected as a Liberal but was defeated in the last election.

Lawyer Peter Rosenthal will represent the Green Party in court in Ottawa on Tuesday to make the case that Ms. May should not be barred.

"It is unfair and unnecessary to leave us with no opportunity but court," said Ms. May, who conceded it would be unlikely to get a legal ruling before the first debate on April 12. For that reason, she said, "I think the court of public opinion is my best hope."

By the middle of Wednesday afternoon, nearly 117,000 people had signed a petition at the website DemandDemocraticDebates.ca in support of her taking part.

The Green Leader has also received some high-profile support. Former prime ministers Paul Martin and Joe Clark have both said she deserves to be included in the broadcasts that give the leaders an unequalled opportunity to make their case to voters.

CBC ombudsman Kirk LaPointe, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, who is the former head of Elections Canada, and writer Margaret Atwood have also endorsed her position.

Ms. May pointed out that her party received nearly as many votes as the Bloc Québécois in the 2008 election, and yet Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe will be at the debates and she will not.

"The bottom line, of course, is that the media consortium has no rules, no criteria and no rationale for excluding me," she said. "And fundamentally, their decision is undemocratic."

The poll of 1,200 Canadians was conducted between April 1 and April 3. It is expected to broadly reflect national opinion within 2.8 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

Mr. Nanos cautioned, however, that the fact that there is broad support for Ms. May's cause does not mean there is a similar support for her party in general.

"I don't think we should confuse sympathy with support at the ballot box," he said. "This [issue]isn't likely to be a significant game-changer."

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