Sunday, October 12, 2008

Stephen Harper's spurious grasp of the English language

Earlier this week, Stephane Dion fumbled a CTV television interview. Asking to start over, the network agreed but later aired the blunder anyways. Stephen Harper jumped on the mistake, calling a snap press conference to tell Canadians that this was proof of Stephane Dion's lack of leadership ability. Let's take a closer look at Stephane Dion's error:
CTV: Mr. Dion, the economy is now the issue on the campaign, and on that issue you’ve said that today that Harper has done nothing to put Canadians’ mind at ease and offers no vision for the country. You have to act now, you say; doing nothing is not an option. If you were prime minister now, what would you have done about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper has not done?

SD: If I had been prime minister two-and-a-half years ago?

CTV: If you were the prime minister right now and not for the past two-and-a-half years.

SD: If I am elected next Tuesday, this Tuesday, it’s what you are suggesting?

CTV: No, I am saying if you were hypothetically prime minister today …

SD: Today.

CTV: … What would you have done that Mr. Harper has not done?

SD: I would start the 30-50 plan that we want to start the moment we have a Liberal government. And the 30-50 plan, in fact the plan for the first 80 days, I should say, the plan for the first 80 days once you have a Liberal government. Can we start again?

CTV: Do you want to?

SD: Sure.
Let us dissect the question: "If you were prime minister now, what would you have done about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper has not done?" It's no wonder he is confused, there is a nonsensical change of tense in this question. So Dion asks for clarification - i.e. if I had been elected instead of Harper in the last election? The interviewer replies no, not two and a half years ago, but now. Dion then makes the logical jump - So you mean what if I get elected? No, today. Essentially the interviewer could have had said yes to the second clarification, because what Dion would do today is unlikely to be different from what he will do on Tuesday if he is elected - he will take action.

My brother-in-law, in ridicule of the question said he would have replied, "What, you mean like if I was in power since yesterday? Well I don't think I could have done much then."

Contrary to commentary, headlines, and Harper's own propaganda, Dion did not become flustered during the interview. He was simply asking for clarification and the whole exchange seemed very calm. Indeed, the sensationalization that has occured over this incident demonstrates Stephen Harper's lack of character and integrity. Dion was perfectly correct to be confused by the question - anyone who was genuinely listening to it would have been. The interviewer's negative responses to both probes by Dion demonstrate that he himself likely did not understand the question he was asking, and probably, neither did Harper.

Dion's major mistake here has been taking the blame for the incident. He has proposed that the confusion could have been due to his slight hearing impairment or a misunderstanding because English is his second language. I can see, English being his second language, why he might have cause to doubt himself - so someone should really tell him that the problem was with the question.

Yet Candians have latched onto this small blunder. Harper has nailed home that in managing the economy you "do not get do-overs." However, this is why Dion has worked hard to produce a comprehensive plan, thoroughly measured and costed. He is not ready to jump into things unprepared, and a failure to understand one question is not an indication of anything to the contrary.

Recent polls show Harper's Conservatives regaining a solid lead over Stephane Dion's Liberals after a rough week. Does this have to do with Dion's blunder? Will it cost him the election? If it does, it will do so by the will of a Canadian public who do not understand the issues - a public who still believes Harper is trustworthy and innocent (because he tells them so) and that Dion is a bumbler and not leadership material (because Harper tells them so) - the same public who watch Dion's CTV interview and ridicule him because they erroneously believe that their own tenuous grasp of the English language is that much better than his.

Oh, Canada...

1 comment:

sandlot said...

You know, you blog about Harper so much, I think you might have a little crush on him. Just like how I know how you secretly like Justin Bieber's music.