Greens win spot in TV election debates

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the head of another party backed down on Wednesday and agreed to let Green Party leader Elizabeth May into the country’s election debates for the first time.

It is a major victory for the Greens, who have been trying to be treated on an equal basis with the four parties that have official status in the House of Commons. The Greens have one seat in the House, a member who was originally elected as a Liberal.

“My views are those of overwhelming gratitude to the tens of thousands of Canadians who protested vehemently,” May said after hearing word opposition had been dropped to her taking part in the televised party leaders’ debates on October 1 and 2.

New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton, who vies with the Greens for voters supporting much tougher action on the environment, gave in after a large number of e-mails and questions on the campaign trail.

“I have only one condition for this debate, that the prime minister is there, because I want to debate the issues with him. I don’t want to be debating the debate forever. It has become a distraction from the real issues,” Layton said.

In opposing participation by the Greens, Harper’s Conservatives had argued that they were too close to the Liberal Party, the biggest opposition party. But the Conservatives backed down after Layton’s decision.

May and Liberal leader Stephane Dion both advocate a carbon tax, and Harper has said May would tend to take more votes from the parties on the left. However May insists she draws support from all points on the political spectrum.

The broadcasting consortium that runs the debates later agreed to include her in the debates.

Election day is October 14.

Reporting by Randall Palmer and David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Galloway