Good morning and welcome to The Final Friday Before Election ‘08. Soon, very soon, the polls will close and most of us will be hard-pressed to answer this question: What the hell was that all about?
Sprinting into the final weekend, the race is close. At least, closer than the pundits were predicting around, say, Day 20. And what happens in the final stretch of a closer-than-expected election campaign?
Attacks! Smears! Fear-mongering! Mutual destruction!
The Conservatives went on the offensive last night, seizing upon footage of a TV interview Stéphane Dion did in Halifax a few hours earlier. The clip, which you can see below, shows the Liberal leader struggling to understand a question about the economy.
He struggled not once, not twice, but three times:
Interviewer: "If you were prime minister now, what would you have done about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper has not done?"
Dion: "If I had been prime minister two and a half years ago?"
Interviewer: "If you were the prime minister right now—"
Dion: "Right now?"
Interviewer: "And had been for the past two years."
Dion: "If I'm elected next Tuesday, this Tuesday, is what you're suggesting?"
Interviewer: "No, I'm saying if you hypothetically were prime minister today—"
Interviewer: "—What would you have done that Mr. Harper has not done?"
Dion: "I would start the 30-50 plan that we want to start the moment that we'll have a Liberal government. And the 30-50 plan, ah, the 30, in fact the plan for the first 30 days, I should say, the plan for the first 30 days once you have a Liberal government, ah, can we start again?"
[As cameras are still rolling, the interviewer agrees to repose the question.]
Interviewer: "If you were prime minister now, what would you have already done in this crisis that Mr Harper hasn't done."
Dion: "Again, I don't understand the question. Because are you asking me at which moment, today, or since a week or 60 weeks?"
Interviewer: "If you were the prime minister during this time already."
Dion: "We need to start again. I'm sorry. If I was the prime minister starting when? Today?"
[Off-camera, an aide can be heard attempting to explain the question.]
Interviewer: "If you were prime minister of Canada today, what would you have done by now that Stephen Harper has not done?"
Dion: "Assume that I have been elected today prime minister, my first thing that I would do is..."
What are we to make of Bloopergate? Did the Tories just hook a big catch days before the election? Or did
they climb aboard a Swiftboat and return with a cooler full of red
This much is clear: We, the humble electorate, are normally force-fed a steady diet of sound bites. Politicians are coached and trained to recite key messages like well-oiled automatons in some dystopian nightmare that would give Descartes a panic attack.
In this context, the video is fascinating because it unscrews the bolts to an underbelly hatch, allowing us to peer inside the machinery. It reveals the mechanics of a politician unplugged.
But the video is hardly a revelation.
Anyone who has watched Dion over the past few weeks is keenly aware of his difficulties with the English language. On Wednesday, when he visited MuchMusic, a kid in the crowd asked this:
"How have you engaged and made youth a priority in this election?"
To which Dion replied: "How I have chosen my priorities in this election?"
His brain, at least when functioning in English mode, appears to be like a cellphone in an area with spotty service. Words are dropped. Semantics are distorted by static. All of this, of course, is related to his hearing problem.
Still, it must be disconcerting for Dion supporters to watch this video.
University professors are usually capable of extrapolating from a hypothetical construct. But it's clear, even in the third take of the interview, that Dion did not understand the subjunctive phrasing.
In fairness, the question contains two clauses, a theoretical conjunction in the present tense and a pragmatic query in the past. It's clumsy. And if English isn't your first language, it's understandably confusing.
So the Tories have pounced. The clip was played for the dreaded media last night and Stephen Harper even made a rare after-hours statement, arguing this Who’s On First? ephemera proves that Dion has no economic plan.
Dion was on CBC Newsworld this morning with the indomitable Heather Hiscox. She asked about Bloopergate and he said these things happen all the time, meaning taped TV interviews are edited. We just don't usually see the outtakes, which is true.
He also said CTV broke the conditions of the interview by airing the unedited footage. If that's true, it's a serious charge and one that warrants an explanation.
Me? I'm just hoping we can get through this final weekend with minimal mudslinging from all involved. These days, politicians love to talk about hope and change and discourse that's free of personal venom. They love to talk about taking a high road. But as we've seen this campaign, the basic instinct of politicians of all stripes leads straight to the gutter.
UPDATE (4:33 p.m.): So I just got off the phone with Robert Hurst, CTV’s president of news and current affairs. Did CTV violate an agreement by airing those false starts in the Dion interview? This is what Dion alleged this morning during his interview with CBC's Hiscox. But according to Hurst, "There was no agreement."
"We thought this was newsworthy," Hurst tells me.
There was an “intensive discussion” about how to proceed after ATV anchor Steve Murphy notified executives something weird happened at the top of what was about a six minute interview at the Delta Barrington Hotel in Halifax. The decision was then made to let viewers see the unedited footage and decide for themselves.
With less than a week to go in the campaign, Stéphane Dion has a bounce in his step, thanks to a bounce in the polls. Four points? That's what now separates the Conservatives and Liberals? Wow.
I don't know how Stephen Harper is feeling at this moment but I'm willing to put good money on "a little freaked out."
Dion was in Toronto today. He addressed the Canadian Club. He sat down with the country's other PM – Peter Mansbridge. And he even skipped over to Queen Street West, to visit – wait for it – MuchMusic.
It was 5 p.m. and Dion was the guest on the station’s Much on Demand flagship broadcast. Election Fever readers who are tweens, teens or 20-somethings are no doubt familiar with the format. For the rest of you, think music videos mixed with giddy chatter mixed with random questions mixed with a live audience that's prone to sudden bursts of deranged applause.
In other words: Not the best environment for someone who last month disclosed a hearing problem. So when he told interviewer Hannah Simone, "I have no idea what you’re saying!" it was not because she was speaking gibberish but because he could not simultaneously hear the words that were coming out of her mouth and the claps that were coming from the kids' hands.
As these things go, the interview was fine.
Dion emerged from a back corridor, a microphone in his hand. Then he took a seat on a large glass cube that appeared to be filled with trinkets. From here, he was peppered with serious questions and ones that were not serious at all: "When you were a professor, were you a hard marker or an easy marker?" "Have you ever illegally downloaded music?"
(Answers: "I was fair" and "No.")
Dion stressed the importance of voting (for the Liberals). He itemized all the things his government would do for young people, including low-interest rate student loans, extended grace periods for repayment, new bursaries.
He called the environment the "most important issue of our century." He did a hard sell on his Green Shift: "It's good for your wallet. It's good for the planet. Let's do it!"
He took a few shots at Harper, calling the early Conservative commercials "low-blow attack ads." At one point, he sounded like an NHL enforcer when referring to the wedge issue known as Canada's artists: "I will support them! And I will not accept that anyone try to intimidate them or impose censorship, as Stephen Harper has done!"
He pandered to the youth vote when talking about student loans: "I know that you will use all your loan for your studies but, once in a while, to go to see a concert or a good movie."
And for good measure, he even did an unintentional impersonation of that guy from the ING Direct commercials: "Your income! Your savings! Your investments!"
Sure, there were moments when the youngsters looked ready for a nap. There were moments when Dion's hearing appeared to be severely compromised. And there were moments that can only be described as weird, as when he introduced music videos: "Here is a video premiere from Katy Perry – Hot n Cold!"
But, overall, Dion did better than he has done with grown-ups this campaign. For whatever reason, he finally looks like he believes this contest is not already lost.
|Rick Madonik / Toronto Star|
|"That man has not won yet! I believe Canada wants a Liberal government. And I believe Paul Martin just stole my plate of grapes."|
As we here in Election Fever await the second U.S. presidential debate in about 4 hours and 22 minutes, let us now waste a few minutes checking out this blog. According to illustrator Sean Kane, the site was inspired by recent polls showing Canadians would vote for Obama if he was running here.
Clever headlines, mischievous Photoshop fun and cool T's, with $1 from every shirt sale going to the Canadian Red Cross. What more could you want?
The Conservatives released their plan this afternoon. If you missed Stephen "The Dude" Harper's speech at a joint gathering of the Canadian and Empire Clubs, here's a summary, as generated by my trusty Cliché-o-Matic 1000:
And here's a more detailed timeline:
12:35 p.m.: The Dude gives a shout-out to his Conservative peeps in the audience. For a minute, he almost looks happy.
12:37: Good lord! A protester disguised in a fancy suit has infiltrated the swank gathering! He stands and waves a “Stop Global Warming” placard. As the man is led away by security, The Dude gets off a good unscripted line: "You'll have to make sure you get (the protester’s) brochures in your historic book of speakers."
12:44: The Dude is now comparing himself and this election campaign to... Noah’s Ark? No, seriously. I’m no Biblical scholar but I'm pretty sure this means Liberals, Greens and NDPers are about to drown.
12:47: Good news for China: The Dude intends to abolish tariffs on imported machinery!
12:49: Good news for grease monkeys and rocket scientists: The Dude plans to invest $200 million in the auto and aerospace sectors!
12:50: Fifteen minutes into the speech and The Dude finally starts a sentence with, “Let me be clear…” breaking his previous record by 12 minutes and 41 seconds. Well done, Dude.
12:51: What's important to The Dude? Balanced budgets, lower taxes and controlled spending. What's not important to The Dude? Smiling.
12:52: Funny story. Our platform? Yeah, fully implemented, it will cost less than $3 billion per year. That's chump change! Our opponents? THOSE FREAKY McSPENDERS ARE FLOATING PIE-IN-THE-SKY PLATFORMS THAT WOULD REQUIRE 10 TIMES THAT AMOUNT!
12:53: The Dude wonders if his opponents think money grows on trees. The Dude wonders if his opponents live in a fantasy world. The Dude abides.
12:55: The Dude rattles off all the things the Conservatives will NOT be doing. They will not raise taxes! They will not impose a carbon tax! They will not cancel planned tax reductions for business! They will not run a deficit! And they will not, under any circumstance, stop getting their hair styled at SuperCuts.
12:57: The Dude is now unveiling his planned “tax-free savings account.” To be launched in 2009, "Canadians will be able to set aside savings that the government will never be able to tax again." Can I just say something? The Dude just got my vote.
12:59: Go left or go right? Pick one fast because, according to The Dude, "Canada has reached a fork in the road!"
1:00: The Dude leaves the suits in stitches with this closing quip: "If we do not win re-election, it will make Bob Rae's Ontario look like a boomtown." Oh, snap.
|"Friends, with this hand, I plan to slap our opponents back into last week."|
Top of the evening. First of all, bravo on the Layton photo captioning this weekend. They were all hilarious, including a few that could not be posted. Why? This blog is owned by a family newspaper. This family newspaper also pays my salary. Now, even though this salary takes the form of a weekly ration of beans and rubber bands, it's a salary I can't afford to lose. Ergo, scandalous one-liners are regretfully spiked into the ether by our moderators...
So, let's see. If I was forced to pick one winner, it would be Chris Chmelyk's "My caucus is bigger than yours." Brilliant. (Chris, let me see if I can find you a prize. Any interest in a gently-used Maple Leafs jersey? I probably won't be needing it anymore.)
Okay, I've been away for a couple of days and am now desperately trying to catch up. What have I missed? This story yesterday by Linda Diebel was beyond creepy. Cutting the brake lines on cars because the owners had Liberal Party signs on their lawns? Really? In Canada? A sad state of affairs, indeed.
By the way, when did vandals develop such exquisite spraymanship? Check out the picture below that was shot by The Star's Rene Johnston. Look at those perfectly-formed letters, especially in the curvy "lies." Now I ask: What kind of political operative/thug tags with this level of artistic precision?
Speaking of artists, I see a few Canadian musicians have joined forces to produce a "Stop Harper" anthem. The song, titled "You Have a Choice," was recorded by several singers, including k-os, Ed Robertson and Sarah Harmer. I have a choice? Really? Excellent. I choose to ignore* all celebrity propaganda during a federal election campaign. (*Excludes Gordon Lightfoot.)
And, finally, I leave you with an urgent question: Why does CBC's Don Newman pronounce the word "broadcast" with that stretched inflection? "Good evening, welcome to the brooooaaaadcast." What's up with that? It used to drive me crazy but now I can't stop saying "brooooaaaadcast."
"Honey, should we order in tonight? Sure, Mexican sounds brooooaaaadcast. Sweetheart, think I'm going out to mow the lawn now. They're calling for rain tomorrow and the grass has become a brooooaaaadcast. Guys, you want to go drinking tonight? I say we hit a few bars and get good and brooooaaaadcast."
Seriously, try it at home. Say it now. Fun, huh?