Le ciel est bleu: liveblogging Stephen Harper’s first Quebec City event of Campaign ’08


2:41:18 PM

So here’s the thing. I don’t actually plan to do a lot of liveblogging during this campaign, because that’s ITQ’s thing and I’m not so much the blackberry-typing guy. Thumbs hurt. But two things happened on the way to the Quebec City Hilton (official motto: “Since We Renovated, The Decor Sucks A Lot Less”). Here are the two things:

1. ITQ told me how to do the datestamp thing, so now I can datestamp at any time. Look: 2:44:07 PM

2. When we landed at the airport, they told us the dogs would be sniffing the bags when we get back on, and while I have nothing the dogs will find suspicious, it got me thinking about lugging my backpack all over Quebec’s half acre, and I thought, why bother?, so I left my backpack on the plane. This seemed clever until I realized we have 2 hours of filing time after the event here, and I got nothing but my berry.

So I might as well use it. Hence: a liveblog! Translated from French, in part! Steve Blaney is here, so you know it’ll be a party. The fun starts in about 15 minutes.

3:08:44 PM small delay. I had imagined a bigger room and a bigger crowd, and apparently when the plane left Ottawa the Conservatives still weren’t sure whether they’d hold the event indoors or out. (Just as the PM wasn’t sure whether he’d walk or drive to Rideau Hall. Harper ’08: it’s highly improvisational, you just can’t tell from the visuals.) In the end, we’re in a room just off the lobby that’s designed to handle 200 or 300 people, which is handy because that’s what we’ve got.

There is milling. I spotted a familiar Quebec City Conservative face and asked him how it looks for the party here. “Around Quebec City? Solid,” he said. “Making gains in the city itself?” He puffed out his cheeks and rolled his eyes: it’ll take hard work if it can be done.

And still there is milling.

3:38:36 PM
So much has happened, including my blackberry crashing. Josée Verner introduced the boss while the Quebec City region MPs and candidates cheered her name as they would have if they were actually excited to see her, an unlikely prospect as she is not really a roof-raising kind of lady.

Now Harper’s up. He made a point of introducing his candidates. By name. Something he was rather famously unable to do when he came to Quebec City on the second day of the 06 campaign. So, progress.

And no sooner had he completed that exploit than he’s lighting into the Bloc, hammer and tong. This is the Message of the Event, and I’m not just guessing, because we’ve been handed press releases with the headline, “Quebec Must Choose Between Harper and Dion.” The Bloc? “As their slogan says, they’ll be present” — not deciding or running things, Harper says.

3:44:08 PM
It’s the Harper government that lowered taxes and recognized Quebec — Oops! The Québécois — as a nation, “Not the Bloc or the Liberals,” Harper says.
And a small thing, but striking to me at least: just as, at Rideau Hall, he made a point of saying how much he had appreciated even having the job, he hits hard here on the part of his speech where he thanks Quebecers for their support while he’s been PM. “It’s true that not everyone in Quebec agrees with everything I’ve done — but you know, not everyone in Alberta agrees with everything I’ve done either.” But he tries to deserve Quebecers’ support, including by “speaking your language.” He allows as how his French isn’t perfect — in fact today it’d been a little shakier than I remember it, without being a real problem; nerves, I suspect — “but I hope that every day it’s getting better.” Warm applause at this. “Because a prime minister must be able to transmit your pride to the world.”

And with that, the event, mostly just a rally, is over. Mme Verner is gonna scrum in a couple of minutes, but unless she says something surprising, I’ll sign off.

Flying to Vancouver tonight. For now, two hours filing time with nothing to do but flâner dans le vieux-Québec. Boy I love campaigns.


Le ciel est bleu: liveblogging Stephen Harper’s first Quebec City event of Campaign ’08

  1. Gains in the city itself? What, the one seat they don’t already have?

  2. Excuse my franglais, but I hope you will someday write, “Le ciel tombe.”

  3. Yeah… don’t the Tories have five of the six Quebec City seats already?

  4. David has a point: I’m a goof. Well, only partly. My friend was indeed referring to a single Bloc-blue riding in Quebec City, which handily goes by the name “Quebec.” It’s Christiane Gagnon’s fiefdom since forever, and it contains both this Hilton near the National Assembly and the hardscrablle but gentrifying St.-Roch neighbourhood in the lower town. Harper made a point of giving an extra-strong shout-out to his candidate here, Myriam Taschereau, who has her work cut out for her.

  5. Also: as predicted, not much happened in the Verner scrum, except the PMO staff cut it off after 7 minutes, which we’re used to in Ottawa, but which upset our Montreal and Quebec City colleagues something fierce.

  6. “He allows as how his French isn’t perfect — in fact today it’d been a little shakier than I remember it, without being a real problem”

    Does anyone know if Harper’s french is better/worse than Dion’s english?

    I wonder because I find it awfully hard to listen to Dion in english and I wonder if Quebecers are tuning out Harper like I do with Dion. For some reason I could listen to Chretien mangle english but I don’t have the patience with Dion.

  7. These things are a matter of opinion, but I think most bilingual observers would say Harper’s French is stronger than Dion’s English. Harper did have serious comprehension problems during the French leaders’ debate in 2006, which left him adrift after a couple of questions. But he does work hard on his French. I’ve seen him rehearsing words he screwed up as he leaves a stage, so he’ll be less likely to get them wrong next time.

  8. Really, jwl? I like Dion’s accent–much better than Chretien’s.

    And I also find I listen more intently, although I probably wouldn’t if the speech was, say 1/2 hour long or something.

  9. Bob Fife on CTV Newsnet pointed out that there were a lot of Jean Charest organizers and such in the crowd.

    I’m told that Quebecers put a lot of importance on symbolism, so starting the campaign in Quebec City will hopefully be appreciated by Quebecers.

    Harper looked a lot more relaxed, and like he was having fun. Deborah Grey gave out that advice on tv a few days ago. I dunno, but so far, all the ‘scary Harper’ rhetoric from every opposition corner isn’t matching the visuals of Harper.

  10. Thanks Paul. Harper seems very sincere about his French, so that’s something. And reading your live blog, it makes me think Harper has been listening to Tip O’Neill and his all politics is local. Thanking people, asking for their vote, a bit of humility. It looks good.

    Jennifer Ross

    Yes, really. I have no explanation for my reaction because I know that Chretien speaks english worse than Dion does. Maybe it’s something to do with expectations: I hear all the time how smart Dion is but his tone and demeanor makes me feel like he’s lecturing me all the time, telling me to eat my sprouts or there will be no dessert.

  11. Chretien has the gift of knowing what he wants to say and being able to make his point in a few short phrases. Thus, it doesn’t matter if he makes a grammatical error or two. One usually understands what he wants to say. Dion, on the other hand, rambles a lot, leaving the listener frustrated with his accent. In other words, it’s not the quality of the grammar that counts.

  12. Well, I think that Harper does better on the syntactical front, whereas Dion is slightly better at comprehension and pronunciation. I enjoyed listening to Chrétien speak in either language because he used common language and phrasing. Dion sound like a university professor in French, and in English this interacts with his pronunciation to make him occasionally difficult to understand. (He has gotten much better, I suspect that anglophones across Canada will soon have the luxury or reliving their university lecture days)

  13. Just the other day, on Mr. Wells’s first video reportage, Dion was on camera mispronouncing “minority.” (He said my-nority.) What makes it so strange is that it’s the same vowel in French; he must be extrapolating from “minor.” It just seems insane that after uttering the word every day for the last three years he wouldn’t have corrected this. He must just not have an ear for languages. Whereas Harper, in spite of his accent, makes so few mistakes in French; perhaps he is less ambitious? Does he improvise at all, Sophie, in French, or does he have a few scripts he uses?

  14. Shame on anyone who casts a vote based on a candidates accent or mispronunciation of words! Have we really become this petty?

  15. Shame, fine. But “become” this petty? It was ever thus.

  16. @jack mitchell, plenty of unilingual anglophones use that pronunciation of that word.

    Now if someone could only persuade Dion not to say “country”…

  17. @ Mark Dowling, hmm, you’re right, I do say “my-nority” in some contexts.

    But not for “minority government,” surely? You can have a my-nority, but you form a mih-nority govt., right?

    @ Hazzard, who says I’m casting a vote for any of these guys? I’ll be voting for my MP, thank you very much. Anyway, I do think it’s something of a reflection on Dion that he hasn’t cared enough to learn proper English, whereas Harper has genuinely tried to improve his French. I think it shows that Dion does not listen to those around him.

  18. Dion just has to learn the bad-word pronunciation of “country”. He, um, needs to take the o out of it.

  19. Personally, I’ve noticed that Harper tends to stick to a few main points that he has mastered whereas Dion makes a real effort to say everything properly and originally in English. Therefore I don’t think you can say that Dion’s English is worse than Harper’s French. Dion seems to need some syntactical training- I should volunteer.

  20. “Le Quebec fait ses forces”. Great slogan. Are they running those signs in Alberta, too?

  21. The consensus in my bilingual household it that Dion’s English is far better than Harper’s French.

    I think it will be pretty clear at the debates. Harper would have a harder time having a non-scripted conversation in French about the constitution or the environment than Dion would have doing the same in English. Yes, Dion has pronounciation issues, but his English vocabulary is larger than Harper’s French vocabulary, which I think it more important.

    And for what it’s worth, I always say “my-nority government”, it never occured to me that the other way was more correct. I hear other anglophones say “my-nority government” more often.

  22. Exactly: I think Harper will struggle in the french-language debates far more than Dion will in the English debates. He speaks well when saying something he’s rehearsed, but spontaneously or in a debate, I think it will be hard for him.

  23. I was surprised to read that people gave Harper the edge. I think the point is moot, however, in light of the fact that people expect Dion to be cogent in English owing to the egghead rep, and he doesn’t come across that way. Harper comes closer to meeting the second language expectations his second language audience sets for him, autrement dit. And I think there’s broad consensus that Harper has made the most progress a) overall, and b) particularly while in Ottawa.

  24. I find Dion easy to understand when he’s on a subject he believes in: the environment and national unity primarily. In those cases emotion works well to fill in the blanks where the language fails him. It’s when he tries to spin that things get rough. His feigned indignation at a ‘snap’ election and attempts to equate Harper with W. or McCain come out garbled and do Dion no favour.

    Chretien communicated well with English Canada, despite his sub-Dion command of the language, because he was a conviction politician by nature: something Dion and Harper clearly aren’t.

  25. From the Macleans.ca archives:

    “A few years ago, Sleeman, then unknown in Quebec, was able to capture a sizable chunk of the province’s crowded and chauvinistic beer market simply by recording radio ads in which he sounded exactly like what he is: an anglo who tries to speak French. Quebecers are not hostile to other Canadians, François Lacoursière, the ads’ creator, told Maclean’s at the time. “An anglo who tries to speak French is instantly welcome, if only for trying.”

    If Harper is going to run as Louis St. Laurent in English Speaking Canada I’m pretty sure from what I heard yesterday that he’s going to run as the Sleeman guy in Quebec.

  26. Hazzard

    Don’t know if you are talking about me or not but I wouldn’t vote Liberal in a million years and it has nothing to do with accents.

    I was only pointing out that I use to give Chretien a chance to make his point, I would listen to him.

    While with Dion he has about 5 seconds to make his point or I mute the sound until he’s done. Dion’s tone and demeanour is the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.

  27. jwl:

    I would hazard to guess that it’s not too important what you think of Dion or his accent.=, as it will have no bearing on anything.

  28. Are any leaders debates scheduled yet, and how many will there be? I’m interested to see how Dion does in an English debate environment. He was very bad in the English Liberal Party leadership debates (obviously, ie. priorities), looking forward to see if he has improved.

  29. Andrew

    True, my one vote won’t mean much of anything.

    However, I do know 3 people (aged 40+) who have previously voted Liberal in every fed and prov election but have a similar reaction to Dion as I do. One is going to vote NDP and the other two are going Con or not vote. I think Dion is underwhelming many of his own supporters and it’s going to show at the polls.

  30. Oh God…..get off the Dion’s English. Do I understand what he is saying? Yup, accent and all.

    You realize that criticizing someone with an accent – you are criticizing how many Canadians today?

    Get to work journalists….talk about their policies, etc.

    I cannot believe that politics has come down to an accent or the fact that a PM has children and all this nonsense.

    If this doesn’t improve, I’ll go back to watching the US race.

  31. JWL isn’t that kind of the point of my commment? If you let someone’s voice/accent/demeanor stop you from even listening to what he/she has to say then you really don’t vote on issues. That’s hardly different than the petty reasons Jerry and George would find to justify dumping a girlfriend on Seinfeld.

    As for never voting Liberal in a million years, again such disinterest in listening and deciding based on platforms. If you only vote Conservative, which I’m assuming based on this comment, that becomes a rather odd statement since Harper has gone to great lengths to govern like a Liberal. So either you do, in fact, like Liberal governing or you believe that with a majority the true Harper will show his stripes and govern the way you have always wanted. But then you have to ask, would you really want such a untrustworthy chameleon running our country? You know….kind of like what the opposition parties have been saying?

  32. I would not vote liberal in a million years, and the reason is their policies, their philosophy, their history, and their platform. If Harper were to govern completely like a Liberal, I would stop voting for him, too. However, that has not happened.
    The fact that Dion is incomprehensible at times, well, that is just another reason to not vote Liberal, because the leader of a country should be comprehensible in the official languages of the country.

  33. So, sf=jwl? I’m confused.

    At any rate, jwl, my point is that you already have cast your vote. Your vote is note up for grabs. You are therefore irrelevant in the discourse of this election. It’s not that your vote is insignificant (I’d wager that your vote counts more than mine, as I live in a heavily populated riding).

  34. Hazzard

    I am different from you, I guess. I have a political philosophy which I believe would be best for our country and I vote for the party that is closest to my ideology, which means Cons or Libertarian.

    You are correct when you question me about whether I support Harper because I am on the fence at the moment. Harper talked the talk before becoming Con leader, and so I voted for him the past two elections, but now I am thinking he’s governing like a Lib and I am not impressed at all.

    I think all politicians are untrustworthy chameleons so that doesn’t really bother me all that much.

    Who’s a libertarian suppose to vote for when all our major parties are socialist to varying degrees? At the moment, Philip Bender is looking likely to get my vote.

  35. Sandi

    I think media/public are focusing on other things than policy because the major parties are basically offering the same plans.

    All seem to believe that government spending is good and the only difference between them is how fast expenditures should expand.

    It’s all rather tweedledum and tweedledee at the moment and I don’t expect it to change.

  36. Can someone,anyone explain to Dion what the name of his website is?

    2 days in a row he has sent people to greenshift.ca, who happen to be suing Dion. They have a banner saying their name has been hijacked. Is this like a unique form of Parisian masochism? Should we have a pool how many days out of 36 that Dion will send people to the wrong site?

    Dion’s conference was all about how Harper is a liar.

    If Dion, just yesterday, said his campaign was not going to be negative, and he starts off calling Harper a liar, doesn’t this make him a…er……..a..liar?

  37. Bud……Harper is a liar. That’s not negative campaigning – it’s truthful campaigning.

    By the way…..Harper started negative at 6 a.m this morning.

  38. Yea, it was too early to comprehend but he did start negative.

  39. Paul is right; the riding named Québec is pretty much the only one which we could say in really ‘in the city’. The other ridings are consisting mostly of the suburbs like Charlesbourg, Sillery, Ste-Foy, etcetera. The Conservatives are having a hard time making a breakthrough in the city itself and are way stronger in the suburbans areas which are dominated by home owners.

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