Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Sins of omission?


In that last post, we (and by "we", I mean "me" so don't get all high-and-mighty or anything) asked whether Stephen Harper technically broke any earlier promises by appointing the unelected Michael Fortier to the Senate and then to his cabinet.

Commenter "scotian" refers us to a transcript of an interview over at "A BCer in Toronto", where we read (translated from the French, so God only knows how accurate it is):

Interviewer: Mario Dumont, who is giving you his support today, he would make a good Minister. If you rake ["take?"] power and do not have many MPs what do you think?

Harper
: I appreciate Mr. Dumont's support. Mr. Dumont has many positive ideas for Quebec and I think that Mr. Dumont would like to avoid another referendum and would like to respect Quebec's autonomy in the Canadian Federation. I cannot, frankly, I cannot name any ministers during an election campaign, but I say you need to be elected to the Parliament of Canada to become a minister.

Interviewer
: Well, if you get a minority government (with) not many MPs from Quebec, what would you do at that point?

Harper: I have the intention of having winning candidates in Quebec because personally, I think this is quite realistic.

So, based on that excerpt alone, did Harper promise that all of his cabinet ministers would be elected? Personally, I don't think so. One can argue that Harper can be criticized for leaving a thoroughly-misleading impression about his intentions but, if you parse the words carefully, he made no promise.

If there's any blame to be laid here, it's at the feet of interviewer Mario Dumont, who is either too stupid to realize he's being conned, or too lazy to do anything about it. Rather than get a straight answer out of Harper, he lets Harper expound on the general principle of unelected cabinet ministers, without nailing him down on what he would do.

Sure, it's splitting hairs but, in this case, that hair-splitting comes down in Harper's favour. If Dumont hadn't been such a worthless hack as an interviewer, he could have asked the one question that would have settled the issue one way or the other, but he didn't, and Harper was left with his weaselly escape hatch.

And my opinion of modern journalism sinks yet lower, if that's even physically possible.

AFTERSNARK: While I personally think Harper can slink away from this one, there is one amusing consequence of all this. Note Harper's actual words (emphasis added):

I cannot name any ministers during an election campaign, but I say you need to be elected to the Parliament of Canada to become a minister.

If Harper wants to take the position that this didn't represent an actual promise, fine. But what he's done instead is established that he has a particularly malleable definition of the word "need" so that if, at some point down the road, he's making a policy statement of some kind in which he proposes that something absolutely "needs" to be done, it's perfectly reasonable for his critics to point out that he's already established what he means (or, conversely, doesn't mean) by that word, and that no one should take him seriously.

In short, Harper can salvage this situation with a quick semantic redefinition, but then he has to be prepared to live with that redefinition from now on.

5 comments:

Grog said...

Halle Berry slinks around stage, worms like Harper _slither_.

Wheaton said...

We as the voting public have two ways of looking at this. We can either allow him to be vindicated by the logical constructs of the english language and whatnot, or we can look at his quotes in a pragmatic way. To me, it's pretty clear that he reneged on principles to which he explicitly claimed to be a subscriber.

Did he--by strict definition of the word--lie? Personally, I think to quibble over this question takes focus off of what matters.

A court of public opinion has different ways of determining guilt than a court of law. Book 'em.

JimDandy said...

If you listen to the interview, Harper said "on doit être élu au Parlement " which means "you have to be elected to Parliament" or "you must be elected to Parliament.". In the French that I have learned over the years, this is a definitive and declarative statement. To "need" (besoin) does have the same urgency. So, by his tone of voice, and his use of language, the man is a lying bastard.

Anonymous said...

A small point, but Mario Dumont isn't the interviewer. He's the leader of the ADQ. The discussion was about whether Dumont could be appointed to a Harper cabinet.

And I think it's clear that he lied. You've set too high a standard for lying. If I say I'll do one thing and Ido another, I've lied-- I don't need to say "I will categorically refuse to do anytihg other than what I hereby promise to do" in order for it to be a lie.

M@ said...

Anonymous, I agree with you, but the problem is that apologists for Harper demand the strict adherence to first-order grammatical principles. Go check out what they're saying.

And note that only Harper's lies apply -- things the rest of the caucus said don't matter.