See Dion training for his next gig – Monty Python

October 10th, 2008
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If you haven’t watched the outtakes of Stephane Dion’s interview with CTV Halifax, don’t miss them. You can’t make this stuff up. It’s priceless both for its comedy and, one would venture, for the Conservative Party’s comeback prospects.

Dion has extended trouble understanding a clear question, asking the interviewer to repeat the question twice and flubbing his attempted answer both times – each time getting worse. Yes, it was a problem of language comprehension. The video doesn’t prove any intellectual deficit on Dion’s part. It does suggest a certain rigidity of mind, however, an innate dogmatism that requires such precise definition of secondary parameters as to prevent understanding and commenting on the big picture.

Having hammered the prime minister for his alleged inaction in the face of economic adversity, it seems inconceivable Dion wouldn’t have three or four talking points at hand covering what he would have done in his place. Yet, such was the case.

Even more interesting was the political response to the event. Some Liberals played the sympathy card, reviving talk of their leader’s hearing impairment. The allegedly hard-boiled Don Martin suggested we should empathize with Dion because of the gruelling nature of the campaign. He also used the opportunity to repeat his criticism of Stephen Harper’s “mean streak” for even mentioning the incident. On Planet Martin, everyone gets to hammer Harper without interruption – not merely over his policies, but his character – while Harper is uniquely barred from commentary.

The Liberal war room was incensed that CTV showed the interview even in the Atlantic region – hence its YouTube availability. They claimed an implicit “deal” that it not be shown. Martin also alluded to CTV’s “questionable ethics”.

Substitute the two Stephens here and see how far those same arguments would be taken by the same people. It’s hard to imagine any Harper faux pas or brain fart being subject to any “deal”, let alone three minutes of full-on cringe-inducing incoherence being withheld from the public.

Can any party expect the media to censor out potentially embarrassing incidents? The standard argument is that Harper is a bully and therefore fair game. Dion, by contrast, is a bumbling punching bag and should be given a pass. Just the type we’d want as PM.

Dion became a cabinet minister in 1996. He’s been a national leader for almost two years. People keep covering for his weak English, as if he’d just arrived on the scene or our language were impossible to master. If Ujjal Dosanjh and millions of other immigrants can do it, then why not an alleged brainiac who would presume to reorder the entire Canadian economy in the image of his dog, Kyoto? We’d say Dion has simply not made sufficient effort to improve his English.

If the prime minister were as remiss in his French, it would certainly be interpreted as a slight to our minority language community. Indeed, besides the repeated ideological assaults by the preachers of tolerance and inclusion, there has been the constant superficial criticism – his hair, his weight, his lack of style, his coldness. Remember the cowboy hat picture? If Dion claims a physical/perceptual handicap, why can’t Harper claim his introversion as an official disability, criticism of which triggers a trip to the human rights tribunal? Somehow he overcame it and became prime minister.

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By John Weissenberger and George Koch