Two speeches

Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed the Canadian people tonight. I don’t know why he bothered; he had nothing to say to us.

The speech was a mere five minutes long, and (as the CBC emphasized) the Prime Minister had nothing new to say. He insisted that the Conservatives do have a plan to stimulate the economy. He asked for time to implement that agenda. And he made a big fuss about the Bloc Québécois’s role in the proposed coalition.

The Prime Minister has said all of those things before, and he didn’t say them in an exceptionally compelling way tonight.

The Prime Minister talks as if the “separatists” — i.e., the Bloc Québécois — will be a party to the coalition. Technically that is not true:  only the Liberals and the NDP will hold Cabinet positions.

Moreover, the CBC pointed out that Prime Minister Harper spoke of “separatists” in English, but referred instead to “sovereignists” in the French version of his speech. In other words, the Prime Minister was trying to drum up outrage against separatists in English-speaking Canada, while speaking more softly to Quebecers — who duly elected 49 Bloc Québécois MPs to Parliament.

In terms of style, the Prime Minister was squinty-eyed and spoke in a high-pitched voice. You could hear the tension in his throat, and see it in his eyes, even though he was trying to come across as a non-threatening, winsome kind of a guy.

The second formal speech was by Stéphane Dion. It was a near disaster in two key respects.

First, because the Liberals didn’t deliver the speech to the news media in a timely fashion.

Both speeches were pre-recorded. The Prime Minister’s tape rolled promptly at 7:01 p.m., as advertised. And then the news media had to stall — “ragging the puck,” as the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge put it — until Stéphane Dion’s speech was delivered for broadcast beginning at 7:28 p.m.

According to Adam Radwanski, the CTV network cut away without broadcasting Dion’s speech. It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the professionalism of the Liberal Party of Canada.

The other disastrous element of Dion’s speech was his usual incompetence in expressing himself in English. At one point he garbled the word “Liberal” — the name of the party he leads. At several points, he had to repeat a word two or even three times before he managed to spit it out satisfactorily.

But in terms of substance — which is what matters most to me — Dion’s speech was clearly superior to the Prime Minister’s speech. Dion explained clearly and simply that a Liberal/NDP coalition is perfectly consistent with Canada’s Parliamentary traditions. There’s nothing illegitimate about the type of government the opposition parties are proposing.

Dion also spoke at length, and appealingly, about the need for Members of Parliament to collaborate with one another across party lines. It was an effective contrast to the Prime Minister’s bombastic attack on one of the parties (the Bloc Québécois).

It was effective because I think it is, indeed, what Canadians want. They want Members of Parliament to put partisan self-interest aside and act in the best interests of the nation in a time of crisis.

Finally, let me offer a post script for non-Canadian readers of the blog.

It is undeniably bizarre that Canada has 49 Members in its Parliament who are committed to splitting up the country.

The strange thing is, Canadians by-and-large have grown comfortable with the Bloc Québécois. They respect the BQ leader, Gilles Duceppe:  when the party leaders debate, Duceppe tends to win polls as the participant Canadians found most appealing!

Yes, the Bloc doggedly promotes the province’s interests, but there’s nothing extraordinary or necessarily undemocratic about that. Not in a country as regionally divided as Canada is.

Nobody thinks Canada is on the brink of splitting apart, and nobody sees support for a coalition by the Bloc Quebecois (a party that’s now firmly entrenched in Ottawa) as doing much to change that. (Adam Radwanski)

In general, Bloc Québécois MPs conduct themselves responsibly. The Conservatives themselves have, from time to time, relied on support from the Bloc to get their initiatives passed in a minority Parliament. Is it illegitimate only for the Liberals and the NDP to accept support from the Bloc?

In sum:  I understand why Stephen Harper is making a big fuss over the “separatist” party:  he’s desperate to turn public opinion against the proposed coalition. But the argument is disingenuous and self-serving:  and I don’t think Canadians will buy it.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Bill
    Dec 03, 2008 @ 22:52:58

    Brilliant assessment. The problem being that The conservatives are playing on the fact that it matters little what is true more what people think is true. If we were more informed about how things really worked in Canada not the US he wouldn’t be able to sell this nonsense. I think the next job of the new government what ever it is should be to increase money to schools to teach civics. That said it wouldn’t be in Harper’s best interest. It is like expecting American Midwest to increase funding to teach anthropology with all its theories. The right always relies on ignorance it is their best tool. If you want proof of our ignorance ask anyone on the street what the Magna Carta was and they will like say “the Magna what?”


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