Political Debates Canadian Style
The debates among the leaders of the political parties in the Canadian Federal Election begin tonight. It will be interesting to compare them with the American political debates. Two obvious differences is that in the Canadian debates will have 5 participants as opposed to two. Also, in Canada there are two debates. The one tonight is in French and the English one is tomorow night (opposite the US Vice Presidential Debate). [ This is a cynical decision of the broadcaster. Since they must provide prime time space at the minimal charge, they put it opposite the US debate since their revenue would be low there if they had regular broadcasting at thst time.]
I shall watch the French debate tonight,( a good test of my struggle with French comprehension.)
One of my favourite radio progammes, C'Est La Vie, which tries to share with English Canada what is interesting in French Canada, had a show with discussed the quality of the French language skills of the debaters. It ranges widely. Only Stephane Dion and Gilles Duceppe are native French speakers. The others have French as a second language.
Here is the evaluation as I remember it. Stephen Harper, (Conservative) has been improving his French. As Prime Minister he has been called upon to use it more. He has also made a real effort to have his party gain acceptance in Quebec so he has worked hard at improving his French. Stephane Dion, (Liberal) speaks wonderful French, refined and gramatically perfect. He had a career as an academic. It is his English that is painful, as a result of a hearing problem, for which he has been unfairly criticised. I heard him on the radio talking to callers and he was very good and managed to explain clearly the wisdom of the carbon tax his party is promoting as a way to decrease carbon emissions. It is a way of shifting the tax burden to environmental damaging things and reducing the tax on income.
Unfortunately, Stephane Dion cannot win linquistically. In Quebec, they criticise him for not speaking "popular" French. I guess he is seen as elitist. Gilles Duceppe, (Bloc Quebecois) speaks just the right Quebec French that makes him acceptable in all level of the community. Jack Layton,(New Democrats) who grew up in Quebec speaks French which is not consistent in the idiom and style . (Perhaps, he gets interference with his Mandarin Chinese, which he also speaks.) Elizabeth May (Green Party), who crashed the old boys club and got herself invited to the debate, is from British Columbia and is the weakest in French. She is a fiesty speaker and will be mixing it up unabashedly. She will get high marks for trying. I hope I did not misrepresent what the programme reported. It will be interesting to see how they interact.
French Canadians are very forgiving of the French speech of English Canadians. What is important is that one tries to speak French. They are very patient and appreciative. After you have tried and are having trouble they will say, "Say it in English." Where I live the custom is, where there is a group of people and one person speaks only English the French Canadians all switch to English. Unlike some of my Anglo neighbours I am not offended if French speakers speak French in front of me. I sometimes even say "It's OK go ahead and speak French." If there is something I want to know I will ask. I had an elderly Anglo neighbour who used to say to French nieghbours in a very sarcastic tone, "I don't speak French , but my English is real good!" (With his fourth grade educacation it was not all that good). I think he felt threatened and at a disadvantage. Awe !!,the politics of language in Canada!
Political debates in the US tend to be not debates at all but parallel monologues. It would be nice if they followed a more formal debating format speaking to an issue interacting with each other.. The Canadian debate, with five participates, sitting around a table may result in a more relaxed give and take. There will still be two sides to the Canadian Debate. Everyone will be attacking Stephan Harper, who is leading in the polls and who was Prime Minister in the Conservative Government. A side debate will be Jack Layton vying to become the leader of the opposition if he can displace the faultering Liberals. Gilles Duceppe, who has been trying to justify his party's existence among some in Quebec, while be relating every issue to Quebec, society and culture. Elizabeth May is a fresh face and an unknown quantity.
It would be fun if they behaved a little like the debaters on the CBC radio show The Debaters.
I try to never miss this funny show as a group of comedians debate topics (breaking all the rules, of course). In the end, there is a vote of the audience as to who is the "best Master Debater". (I love this verbal joke.)
I hope everyone enjoy the political debates. I don't think I will be able to resist watching the Biden/Palin debate. Governor Palin is so wrong and ill prepared to be a vice-President. She should step back. "I cannot do this job. I thought I could. I have a very young handicapped child and a teenager going through a life changing experience. They need their mother. I have ask that another candidate replace me." Sadly, this will not happen. I hope I will not feel embarassed for her during the debate.