Double double standard


In a radio interview in Montreal, Duceppe said Harper’s comments serve to illustrate the “double standard” that exists when it comes to Canada’s official languages.

Canadians demand that French political leaders speak English fluently, but English-speaking leaders can get away with mangling French, he said.

[Canadian Press]

Norman Spector has offered the obvious rejoinder: that Canadians elected Jean Chrétien, notwithstanding his barely-comprehensible English, to three straight majorities.

I’ll add another: it was English-speaking Canadians who did so. Francophone Quebecers largely turned their back on him, with Duceppe’s hearty encouragement, for sins that included… his French. How many times has one read how Chrétien’s crude, backwoods French, strewn with grammatical errors and anglicisms, was an embarrassment to sophisticated urban francophones, how it made them cringe?

English-speaking leaders can get away with mangling French? Can they? Could Preston Manning? Stockwell Day? Kim Campbell? Joe Clark? How’d that work for John Crosbie or Belinda Stronach’s leadership bids? In fact, no leader who was not fluently French-speaking has carried Quebec since Lester Pearson in 1965 — and since 1930, with one exception, no leader has won a majority in Parliament without carrrying Quebec. The exception? Jean Chrétien.

As Norman says, “nobody does humiliation better than Duceppe.” Or hypocrisy.

ENCORE: Deux Maudits Anglais has another take.

ENCORE DEUX FOIS: Just to complete the circle, I seem to recall seeing a quote from Duceppe somewhere at the conclusion of the English debate observing how Dion was “really struggling” in English, or words to that effect. Ten points to the reader who can supply the link.

ENCORE TROIS FOIS: Duceppe, whose own English is accented to the point of absurdity, is often declared the winner of the English debates, by English-speaking commentators.

ENCORE QUATRE FOIS: In point of fact, Harper never criticized Dion’s English, or suggested it explained his difficulties answering the question. Tory bloggers, alas, have not been so restrained, nor was Mike Duffy (or so I’m told: it doesn’t show up in the clip).


Double double standard

  1. Your chastisement will roll off Duceppe like water off a duck’s back.

    Canada is to Quebec as an ATM is to a teenaged girl who has lifted the bank card out of her grandmother’s purse. Save your lectures, Gramps, we’ve got some serious partying to do tonight.

    P.S. The soundest banks in the world need a $25B “backstop”. But it’s not a bailout you understand. Here is what the PM said today (quoting from memory): “Taxpayers win when the they are forced by government order to buy mortgages from banks which no sane private investor would ever purchase at that price … as far as you know … and did I mention that Stephane Dion is a goof?”

  2. Pure laine-guage

  3. Andrew,

    I’m waiting for the disappointment.

    You’re on a roll.

    As for the reference to the Cadman tape in the comment above, Dion’s in the midst of what appears to be the final pitch of his campaign:

    That Harper’s mean and has no class.

    Recall the tape is evidence in a lawsuit in which Dion’s party is being sued for publicly accusing Harper of committing a criminal act.

    I’m not sure where publicly accusing a sitting PM of committing a serious criminal offence (with virtually no evidence to back that up),

    stands on the spectrum of “mean” or “low class”, but I’m pretty sure it’s somewhere way above suggesting one’s opponent has difficulty putting forth their views.

    Thanks for the reminder though, as we ponder Dion’s tears of self pity, that he’s fully prepared to dish it out, but appears not nearly ready to “take it” in this rough and tumble political world, which will only get rougher should he become PM.

  4. Well done Harper… the Bloc will have a pleasant election night.

    How many seats for the Tories in Quebec? Should we asked Mulroney?

  5. Duceppe is right. Harper & Layton are very far from fluent in French, much less than Dion is in English, yet they are shown much greater leeway in Quebec than Dion seems to be in English Canada. First it was the “accent” – although perfectly understandable and better spoken than many English Canadians. Now it’s trying to understand a terrible question and respond intelligently.

    Chrétien’s French was not ungrammatical – what he did do was effectively use common colloquial expressions, including anglicismes, to great effect, as he spoke in the language of the people, much like a character in a Michel Tremblay play: “les élites séparatistes veulent le flag sur le hood du cadillac”.

    The reason for the difference in treatment is that French Canadians are a minority and thus used to the majority anglos’ overestimating their mostly useless French and dealing with it. The majority are not used to making the same, ahem, reasonable accomodation.

    Patrick Lagacé, one of the very few prominent francos to defend liberalism and openness to minorities during the recent identity drama in QC, comments completely accurately on this affair his La Presse blog. He is no great Dion fan. Nor are any of his colleagues. But all the franco media, much more bilingual than their anglo counterparts, correctly understood the francophobic undertones of this incident, as it was prefaced by constant Con attacks on the same implicit basis: “Ha Ha, silly frenchy! Do you really want someone like THAT, with a silly accent, and strange gallic shrugging gestures & intonation, as PM?”

    There are a lot of anti-immigrant, anti-anglo bigots in QC, as I know only too well. But there is also still an awful lot of anti-French bigotry elsewhere, usually just latent, but as this incident demonstrates, just waiting to bubble up. Go eavesdrop on conversations in Cheryl Gallant’s riding if you doubt me.

    Anglos understandably hate acknowledging this, as francos do in QC re. their own prejudices, and when something like this comes up, there is a moment of dissonance, as the gap between what they claim to believe (liberalism) comes up against ingrained prejudice (the forgotten and denied anglo nationalism). Same problem in QC when incidents arise the other way. The immediate reaction is usually visceral, as we saw with Duffy, but eventually, people’s ideals tend to win out and the response becomes favourable to the aggrieved party, which says a lot of good about Canada.

    I think maybe Gérard Bouchard should get his stuff translated – there is such a thing as English Canadians and its concomitant nationalism, but it has not been allowed to speak its name since Trudeau – I agree with multiculturalism by the way, but was it really necessary to remove all mention of English historical references (ex: HM’s coat of arms on postboxes, Dominion Day)? Bouchard posits that it’s precisely because French Canadians in QC have denied their own existence and claimed to be part of an asceptic all-encompassing “Civic Quebec Nation” that they sometimes react so idiotically to identity questions, because “ils ne sont pas bien dans leur peau” (singular because collective). Something like this sometimes happens with anglos. But no-one ever talks about it. Pity.

  6. The ghost of Byfield stalks the land.

    He haunts us still.

  7. It’s very courageous of Duceppe to come out and attack Dion’s English like this. I’m sure Dion is immensely grateful.

  8. Mr. Coyne – it occurs to me that Duceppe’s pronunciation of English sounds remarkably like that of your occasion panel partner Chantal Hebert. Take care what you say – I hear she has sharp elbows in the corners!

  9. I enjoyed Duceppe’s pronunciation of “sustainable development” (SUS-tnible DAV-lopment) during the English debate.

  10. Speaking of the At Issue panel, I’m still laughing at the way Coyne spat out the word “empathy” near the end, as it related to being a campaign issue of importance. It looked like he’d taken a sip of sour milk. (You should riff out a little blog post on the topic, Mr. Coyne).

  11. “Your chastisement will roll off Duceppe like water off a duck’s back.”

    exactly. Harper keeps on wading into pools and wondering why his ankles are wet.

  12. Uh, Andrew, on your fourth update – it was Dion who suggested on Newsworld that he didn’t understand the question because of his English skills. “Maybe I didn’t understand the question because of my hearing difficulty. Or because English is my second language”. The hearing difficulty seems particularly weird as an explanation since he repeated the question back to the interviewer…

  13. What’s happened to Paul Wells’s post about cheatin’ Stephen and his lies about the Cadman tape?

  14. Yeah, Dion is whining that Harper is mean and has no class…This from the guy whose party is spending millions of dollars on distasteful Harper/Bush ads!

    Sure Stephane, you guys don’t do negative do you?

  15. New Ontario only poll out.

    Cons gaining,

    Libs dropping,

    NDP gaining.

    Big sample for Ontario only. Given the spread, it appears Ekos’ last numbers are more accurate than Nanos’.

  16. What’s happened to Paul Wells’s post about cheatin’ Stephen and his lies about the Cadman tape?

    Libel chill…

  17. Don’t slag Duff Andrew. As I recall everyone on the program was dancing around the language question like a stink bomb at a wedding party, including the Duffer.

    Duff’s analogy was to Stanfield dropping the football, which may be arcane to a lot of readers, but most of Duff’s analogies are of similar vintage (quips about Pearson and Dief, Stanfield and Trudeau).

    I think he really couldn’t believe that Dion had missed such an obvious question, although he definitely wasn’t impressed with Geoff Regan trying to raise the disability issue.

  18. comment by Eugene Forsey Liberal on Friday, October 10, 2008 at 7:46 pm:

    Very interesting, to say the least. Yes, of course, it’s a pity that here in Canada we cannot really discuss what the underlying political problems amount to.

    You catch a big part of that problem.

    Free speech within Canada should include open discussions about the french and english divide, before we tack on other and mostly new-incoming nationalities/customs.
    Afteral, if the french/english divide cannot be openly talked about, then how are we to solve the rest of the problems, as they are inherently attached to it.

    Individuals are also partly defined by ‘nationhood’. Meaning that the definition of nation can enlarge the meaning or finding of self. Nations form the larger dimension of self. Not that the nation should cater to each and every individual in particular, but that the individual can extend itself as being defined by nation.

    The existence of countries can offer such enlargement for self being, mainly done through government and laws: democracy would be the word in most cases.

    But if Canada does not have a clear sense of self, then that means the individual within Canada will not be able to enlarge the meaning of self as a result, and the health of democracy would suffer likewise.

    That would be the pityfull aspect in all of this.

  19. I never would have thought that by leaving Quebec referenda behind us, the mechanism to replace it would be the formation of a political party entering into federal politics.

    Imagine the consequences of that:

    one political party running within federal elections, never to have to undergo the same scrutiny as all other federal parties are subjected to; never having to attest forming government; never having to balance regions from coast to coast;never having to solve Canadian healthcare, the Canadian economy; never having to make decisions regarding war; never having to make decisions regarding international trade, etc. for all is geared toward regional interest (Quebec) while the other parties running will have to take the full picture into account.

    Complicated? More like arresting potential, methinks.

  20. “Disinterested Subjectivity” (Beuve-Méry) & “Media Ethics” – one impossible, the other oxymoronic?

    From CP:
    A Liberal spokesman said he was told at the hotel when the interview was being conducted that the first few minutes would not be aired, but that the plan changed after there were discussions with CTV in Toronto.

    “They said they weren’t going to run them and they chose to run them,” said Mark Dunn. “Toronto decided to go out of its way to embarrass Mr. Dion. Simple as that.”

    Why only La Presse & London FP have picked up story so far?


  21. It’s on the Canoe website Senator Emeritus. That’s a pretty good indication it will be in all the Sun papers tomorrow. Not that it means very much to the average voter.

  22. In point of fact, Harper never criticized Dion’s English, or suggested it explained his difficulties answering the question.

    Exactly. But the media are jumping all over Harper’s response to the videotape, even though his comments were very measured. He said only that it wasn’t a language issue, that the question was clear and asked repeatedly. The rest of his comments were that Dion has no plan for the economy. What’s so objectionable about that?

    And yet Dion, Layton, and May are free to attack Harper in any way they see fit, using any words they choose. Dion calls him “classless”. Layton calls him “incompetent”. And nobody in the media has any trouble with any of this.

    Yet another double standard.

  23. So, what was the question?

  24. If Jack Layton had been in a similar position as Dion in that interview (or Harper or May); what would we discussing? Most likely what we should be and that would been their response to the question. The question itself was. To paraphrase; Rather than attack and criticize the government, What should have been done differently?
    Shame to the media for bugling this, SHAME on Conservative strategists for missing the right attack and SHAME on the Liberals for playing up the farce.

  25. The hot question of course is not in which language the so-called leaders have the most facility, but why the government has so much control over people’s lives that anyone cares which vocabulary and accent they use for their idiotic babbling.

    When government was small and taxes were light nobody cared if, say, the kings from the line of Saxe-Cobourg and Gotha spoke English, German or Bantu. Whole empires, kingdoms, principalities and dukedoms flourished for hundreds of years in which hardly anyone cared what the nibs were talking about, as long as they were left alone.

    Now you’ve really hosed yourselves – you’ve thrown all your money and property into a common pile to be centrally managed and you’re scared to death that you won’t be able to get the gist of what the partisan oligarchs are saying when they make pronouncements on the disposition of your property. And many of you are deeply concerned that on the basis of mother tongue your children won’t qualify for the only jobs worth having any more, carrying water for the oligarchs.

    Here you are faced with the situation in which the people who control your life are either throwing 25 billion of your money – or not throwing – at the banks, for reasons which make no sense since they’ve just been practically shouting at you that there is no problem whatsoever with any bank. Whenever there is so much shouting and lying going on then you can be pretty sure that a tremendous con job is being pulled off. But you’re so baffled by the language thing that instead of asking sharp, intense questions about exactly whose money is going where and why, it’s as if you’ve completely written off your entire financial fortunes as belonging to “them”, and you’re going to focus from now on and forever on arguing over accents. Way to go.

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