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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Canada's fledgling Green Party will not be allowed to participate in national televised election debates after other political parties objected, the TV networks that control the debates said on Monday.
The networks said they asked the major political parties if the Green Party should be included, and that it became clear that three of the other parties would not participate if Green leader Elizabeth May was allowed on the stage.
"In the interest of Canadians, the consortium has determined that it is better to broadcast the debates with the four major party leaders, rather than not at all," the Canadian networks said in a joint statement.
The Greens called the decision "undemocratic" and said they would take the issue to court.
The governing Conservatives, the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois have all complained that the Greens should not be allowed to participate on the grounds that they are working politically with the Liberals.
The Liberals, who have made environmental policy a key element of their campaign, have agreed not to field a candidate against May in the Nova Scotia constituency where she is trying to unseat Defence Minister Peter MacKay.
The Greens are running as many candidates as the established national parties, but have not been allowed in past election debates because they did not have a sitting member of Parliament.
The Greens argued they cleared that hurdle last month when an independent member of Parliament agreed to seek re-election under the party's banner. The rule on a sitting member of Parliament allows the Bloc Quebecois to participate in the national forum while only running candidates in Quebec.
May accused the television networks of "rewriting the rules" and hiding behind threats from the other parties.
"I think it is appalling that the media consortium is submitting to (Prime Minister) Stephen Harper's and (NDP Leader) Jack Layton's threats," May said.
Layton, campaigning in Vancouver, sidestepped reporters' questions on whether he had refused to debate with May, and said the networks were simply using the same rules as in the last election.
Harper said the Conservatives objected to May because she was really just running as a front for the Liberals, but did not view her as a political threat.
"I suspect strongly that Elizabeth May will, before the end of this campaign, endorse the Liberal Party. We will see on that," Harper told reporters in Richmond, British Columbia, shortly before the networks' announcement.
The networks said the first debate, in French, will be held October 1, and an English-language debate will be held the following day. Both will be held in Ottawa. Canada goes to the polls on October 14.
Reporting Allan Dowd, editing by Vicki Allen