[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]
VICTORIA - The most vigorous exchange at the television debate on the Nisga'a treaty happened off camera. It occurred when Stuart Parker, leader of the Green Party of B.C., tried to barge on to the set at the CBC building in downtown Vancouver while the debate was in progress. In an instant, he was thrown to the floor and then ejected from the building.
A veteran of numerous environmental protests over the years, Mr. Parker says his treatment at the hands of the CBC was the roughest he has ever received.
"I've never been roughed up like that on environmental blockades," he told me Tuesday. "I'm used to doing civil disobedience when the police are involved, so I guess I'm spoiled."
Mr. Parker had entered the building in disguise with the intention of interrupting the broadcast and asking for a chance to make a statement on behalf of his party, which had been excluded from the debate by the CBC as it welcomed three other party leaders and one party president.
He had tried every other means of breaking into the line-up, including a Monday afternoon plea to Bob Patterson, B.C.'s chief electoral officer. But in the last-minute conference call with Mr. Patterson and representatives of the major political parties, the Greens ran into strong objections from New Democratic Party president Brian Gardiner and the chief electoral officer adjourned the meeting without intervening.
Mr. Gardiner's role fits with the governing party's longstanding opposition to the Greens being accorded any standing on the political stage.
The NDP has resisted attempts to include the Green party in the lineup for debates in the 1991 and 1996 election campaigns as well, and so far the party's position has been matched by the organizers of those debates.
The NDP's reasons are obvious. If the Greens were to gain any exposure in the political process, then there is a good chance they would attract votes from British Columbians who are deeply concerned about the environmental issues that are at the forefront of the Green cause.
The party also takes strong stand on a range of social issues -- it is notably hostile to expanded gambling, for example -- and that would likely appeal to social activists as well.
Environmentalists and social activists have been most likely to vote NDP in the past. But the party's grip on those voters is not as secure because Premier Clark has been busy watering down some of the environmental and social policies of the previous Mike Harcourt government. Plus some environmentalists are offended at the way the premier takes their support for granted, telling them that they'll have to vote NDP because they have nowhere else to go.
A viable presence for the Greens, or any other party on the left, would give those voters someplace else to go. And the Greens would not have to siphon away many votes from the NDP before they would create a problem of vote-splitting on the left, much like the one that exists on the right side of the political spectrum.
What makes a viable political party? In B.C., it begins with a seat on the set during a televised debate.
As the leader of every fringe political party is quick to recall, Gordon Wilson was treated as a political nonentity until he pressured his way into the 1991 election debate.
From that platform, he made an impressive showing and catapulted over the dying Social Credit party and into second place in the general election that was held a few days later.
Mr. Wilson, mindful of those days, supported the Greens' right to a chair in the debate. So did a representative from B.C. Reform. The Liberals backed Mr. Parker for their own reasons, they being as keen to split the left-wing vote as the government is to perpetuate splits on the right.
In recent years the 26-year-old Mr. Parker and his supporters have made a stab at turning the Greens into a political force.
The party ran candidates in most constituencies in the last provincial election. It finished ahead of Mr. Wilson's Progressive Democratic Alliance in the 1997 byelection in Surrey-White Rock. It scored 10 per cent of the vote in one recent opinion poll.
In B.C., where a party like Reform can come from nowhere to major status in less than a decade while two major parties -- the provincial Socreds and federal Conservatives -- have been shoved aside, I would not rule out the possibility that the Greens could emerge as a force.
But I doubt it will happen unless their leader can get a seat, not the heave-ho, from the organizers of the next televised debate.