The Media on poorly bilingual leaders

It’s the new low in a snake’s belly of a campaign.

Liberal leader Stephane Dion misunderstands a complicated question and the Conservatives trot out leader Stephen Harper to declare it the definitive proof this Liberal leader is unfit to serve as prime minister. (Don Martin in the National Post, October 9, 2008)

“Day, who lived in Quebec as teenager, is desperate to improve his mediocre French so that the Alliance may broaden its appeal to Quebec voters. He was the first to admit yesterday that his French needs work and brushed off previous reports that tagged him as perfectly bilingual.” (Windsor Star, July 28, 2000)

“Mr. Day read carefully from a written French text. Even with the text, it was obvious within two minutes that any claims to bilingualism are seriously exaggerated.” (Paul Wells, National Post, April 1, 2000)

“Compounding Reform’s problem is that its leader can’t tell Quebecers his message in their language. Manning is unilingual. But he’s trying. He thanked those present for coming by reading from a prepared text in French – a halting, tortured dialect exacerbated by his natural nasal twang.” (Toronto Star, July 19, 1994)

They were kids, but they didn’t handle Reform Party Leader Preston Manning with kid gloves when he spoke yesterday at an all-girls’ private school.

Manning, who wants to run Canada’s proposed new right-wing political party, was asked in French about his notoriously poor skills in the language by a student during a stop at St. Clement’s school.”(Kingston Whig-Standard, March 11, 2000)

“Despite the appeal to posturing and sound-bite simplicity, the televised leaders’ debates sent one undeniable message: Reform leader Preston Manning is not worthy of being Canada’s next prime minister. Despite the appeals to a Fresh Start, which is his party’s campaign theme, he has personally not made a fresh start by still being unable to speak French. A modern leader of this nation cannot have such a liability. Forty years ago, Canadians could forgive John Diefenbaker’s famously tortured French. In 1997, such bilingual ineptitude in a national leader is inexcusable.” (Kingston Whig-Standard, May 15, 1997)

“But national public life happens in both languages. The federal government serves Canadians in both languages, and if you were a public servant, you would want to be evaluated in the official language you feel more comfortable in – which is one of the reasons senior government jobs require bilingualism. You would think that anyone who wanted to engage in national public life, as opposed to local or provincial public life, would learn both English and French.” (Toronto Star, October 20, 2002)

“It first became clear that Preston Manning’s campaign to win the leadership of the Canadian Alliance was in serious trouble during the candidates’ debate in Montreal. Manning’s composure was shaken by his inability to perform in French; he looked, for the first time, as if he thought he was losing. Stockwell Day, on the other hand, looked like a winner.” (Toronto Star, April 29, 2001)



  • simon


  • Peter

    Exactly right! If the same thing had happened to a Conservative there would be calls for a public hanging! The piece serves two purposes. First, it shows just how inept Mr. Dion really is. Second, it really exposes just how biased the MSM is. Particularly the CBC, they've been making excuses for their Liberal masters the whole way and now even speak for Mr. Dion to explain his own platform!

  • Nancy

    Of course, the real issue is that, once he DID understand the question (it was explained to him by an aide before the final take), he had NO ANSWER, other than to babble his standard campaign speech about planning to have meetings for thirty days to come up with a plan. A plan to make a plan is not a plan.

  • wilson

    Dion was asked the same question today, and he gave the same answer.
    '30 day plan'
    He understood the question yesterday.
    (correction, yesterday his first answer was the 30/50 plan for poverty, on the 3rd attempt he gave the 30 day plan script)

  • Alberta Girl

    Stephen – I would suggest emailing this to every media person who covered and excused Dion over this just so they know that we know.

  • Paula

    Stephen, leave Dion alone, the poor man has a disability… no I don't mean his hearing… I mean the fact that he's dumb as dirt and is used to being coddled and handled with kid gloves by the media.

    Dion can dish it out. but he can't take it. Now the poor man knows what Prime Minister Harper has to deal with every day.

  • stephentaylor

    Dion is not dumb, he just doesn't have a plan.

  • Dean

    It will be interesting to see the fallout on whether this has an effect on the average voter. Whether you are into seat projections or not this is interesting.

  • daryl
    …….Stronach's brief three years as an MP have been a political roller-coaster rideind the scenes to bring about the merger of the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties, Stronach ran in 2004 for the leadership of the new Conservative party, undeterred by her political inexperience and her inability to speak French…….

    ……….After Martin's government was defeated in 2006, Stronach flirted briefly with seeking the Liberal leadership. She pulled together a campaign team but ultimately bowed out of the race, claiming that she wanted to devote herself to reforming the leadership selection process instead. However, insiders acknowledged that Stronach realized she simply couldn't win, hamstrung by her weak grasp of French, her relative inexperience and her newcomer status to the party…………..

    I recall the media thrashed her for asking for question in english.

  • DBeaulne

    Interesting yes, but here's a link for Oct 10th / 08

  • Paula

    Right, not having a plan just a few days before the election is pretty dumb!

  • wilson

    This poll states the opposite of what Duceppe is saying about a double standard.

    'The views of Canadians on the significance of having a leader who can speak their language varied greatly across the two samples. While 73% of Francophone respondents believe it is very important for a Prime Minister of Canada to speak their native tongue fluently, the number drops to 57% for Anglophone respondents.

    “Mr. Dion and his handlers are faced with a challenge in terms of getting their message across to English Canada,” says Angus Reid, CEO of Angus Reid Strategies. “Still, they can take some comfort from the finding that Anglophone Canadians place less of an emphasis on linguistic ability as do Francophones.”

  • Brian

    Yeah according to the MSM Liberals are to be excused for a language gaff.

    … problem is this was no language gaff.

    Dion clearly understood the intent of the question , and if you watch his “body language” and facial expression closely , you will see that he knows he has been trapped by the question for which he has no answer.

    Until now Dion has been able to chin-wag at PM Harper without being specific about what he (Dion) would do or could do better.

    So who gives a tinkers damn if the question was poorly worded or if the grammar wasn’t perfect ? The intent of the question was 100% clear !!!!

    Here is a man (Dion) who aspires to be prime minister and he gets muddled by a question ! He had 3 chances to turn the question around and answer it in his owns terms of reference , and what did he do ?

    He tried to obfuscate and avoid the intent of the question , simply because he has no plan other than to criticize PM Harper.

    Can you imagine Dion in a complex trade negotiation … “This is not fair” … as Canada get taken to the cleaners when Dion becomes hopelessly muddled if the question is complex !!!!!

  • dbo789

    There's a difference between 'dumb' and not having a plan. Dion has a PhD and was a university professor for a number of years. Almost the same story with Jack Layton. Neither of them are 'dumb' people, they are just flawed in their views and plans (or lack of) for the nation.

    You need to be able to separate between people and their ideas. While I fully and totally disagree with nearly everything political that comes out of either Dion or Layton's mouth, I would have no problem having a coffee and conversation with either. (As long as we stayed away from politics! :P)

    As US supreme court justice Antonin Scalia once said, “some really good people have some really bad ideas.” Dropping to name calling, no matter if you are aiming at the right OR the left side of the spectrum is immature. Learn to argue against an idea, not the person presenting it.

  • Peter C

    Not understanding English is an issue because it is a world language (the one most commonly used by elected national leaders anyway) and the one in Canada that anyone can understand from coast to coast. Past leaders not understanding French is nowhere near as big of a problem as a possible future one having trouble with English. This is an issue regardless of whether or not Mr. Dion has a plan for the country and economy.

  • Gabby in QC

    I had a feeling this would be turned into a language issue, i.e. Dion’s obvious difficulties with English being ridiculed by some conservative partisans, and the media turning it into a French vs. English thing.

    This a.m. during the PM’s presser a francophone reporter (which one ?) asked why Dion should not be accorded the same tolerance Mr. Harper has been accorded by Francos when he speaks his non-perfect French. Mr. Harper’s response was excellent: the point was not whether Dion understood the question, the point was his answer. It showed he is unprepared for leading the country, as he will only formulate “a plan” once he gets elected. (I’m paraphrasing)

    HOWEVER, and perhaps I should have posted this yesterday when the video came up, but wasn’t in the mood to be dressed down for expressing this: ever since Dion came onto the scene, there have been comments about his lack of fluency in English, including from some in the media. I’ve thought from the beginning it should not have become a big issue because the sympathy it could engender could backfire. And now it appears it has.

    It is true there’s a double standard, Stephen, as your research shows. Knowing that, why give them the ammunition? Why dwell on the language aspect, when there are so MANY other things – you know, like policies – that could and should be highlighted as wrong wrong WRONG?

  • anon

    One of my favourites from the spin dept… this one from Jacques Bourbeau of Global National just a few minutes ago:

    “When they got word of this, the Tories rushed to judgment.”

    He concluded by saying, “So what has this served to accomplish? To put out a big distraction in the closing days of the campaign.”

  • Philip Hauser

    You are right Paula, the real story here is that the Liberal Emporer to be has no clothes.

    Only took one little kid (reporter) to notice it and everyone else is now laughing at him for what should have been obvious to us all.

  • Liz J

    It’s not about who speaks French or English the best, it’s who speaks the truth.
    Dion is out slagging Harper beyond the pale. He must be taking advice from Paul Martin who did just that in the final days of the last election. Today in Burlington he had the gall to say we want a Prime Minister who writes his own speeches.
    That’s something we need to pick up on pronto. He got away with the plagiarism story when the media did not pick up on it, it was of no interest because it was a Liberal who did it. He used an entire article by someone else to deliver a speech without attribution. Harper had a few sentences in a speech written by his speech writer and it was all over the damned news. WHAT DO WE DO WITH THIS? This can’t be let slide.

  • Cool Blue

    Most telling of all is that a day later Dion is speaking of media conspiracies against him, of “low blows” against his English skills and “low blows” against his supposed hearing disability….

    Yet he still hasn’t answered the original question.

  • Expert Tom

    I know a lot of the media folks are all mad at CTV for airing this saying it breached journalistic integrity, like that profession had any. I agree that CTV lost credibility by airing it and may have difficulty in booking interviews in the future, but this type of thing has happened before. Do you remember some ‘off the record’ remarks that Stephen Harper made on a plane ride? Yes, we all remember because the reporters in question thought the contents where just to important not to divulge, even though they had given Harper their words it was ‘off the record’ What goes around comes around and anyone who gets too close to the media is bound to get burned by their ‘gotcha’ tabloid paper selling the sky is falling ways.

  • Observant

    That’s not the issue .. it’s that Quebec is flocking back to their beloved BQ sovereignists and rejecting the Conservatives because Harper threatened their artistic ‘star’ system and then all those Quebec ‘stars’ came out to attack Harper for the cuts to culture.

    Quebec is now trying to play everybody in the RoC against each other by voting federalist provincially and separatist federally .. which is tatamount to blackmailing the RoC while riding out their provincial government federally.

    Western Canada will identify this as Quebec blackmail, while Ontario may remain oblivious to the obvious. This will breed a separatist movement in Western Canada, from the Ontario-Manitoba border. Enough is enough with Quebecers playing the RoC as fools and then openly threatening to separate through their BQ vote if we don’t pay their blackmail demands.

    This election could easily begin the splitting apart of Canada, because Western Canada doesn’t really need Quebec or the Maritimes for that matter. Now we wait to see which way Ontario swings .. back into the clutches of the Liberal party or giving the Conservatives their vote.

    Another Harper minority government could precipitate another snap election by Harper declaring that he will not accept the support of the BQ, and if the Liberals and NDP vote no confidence in a December Budget we will have another election in January-February. Then Ontarians will have to decide if they want to support Quebec and it’s perpetual demands for more and more money to stay in Canada. Canadian unity stands in the balance.

  • Anne in swON

    Dion would have had to undergo oral exams to defend his thesis /dissertation in order to get both a master's degree and a doctorate. He would have been very familiar with the material on which the questions were based because he would have written it himself. He would would not have been asked the question several times (nor would the question have been explained) and would not have had several shots at the answer. Further questions would likely have arisen based on his answer. The point is that the man is obviously intelligent and understands how to answer difficult questions when he is familiar with the subject. He indicated that he heard the question asked by Mr. Murphy because he repeated it. It is evident he was not familiar with the material on which the question was based and was unable to answer. End of story.

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