(Post-debate addendum added at the bottom of this post with my thoughts after having watched the debate on 24 September).
Tonight is the first of the French-language television debates for Federal party leaders (the second one will be on October 2nd).
For the first time in this election campaign, it will involve all five party leaders:
- Prime MInister Stephen Harper
- Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau
- NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair
- Green Leader Elizabeth May
- Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe
I do not believe it is a stretch to say that many Anglophone Canadians are not aware how our Federal politicians sound in French.
I for one can tell you that some of them will not fare well in this evening’s French-language debate, simply owing to their poor mastery of French.
The Montreal Gazette recently published an English-language article which asked one French language expert, and one political science expert to give their impressions of the leader’s levels of French, and how that may play in their favour, or to their detriment during both French-language debates.
I’ll provide the link to the article below. But first, before you read the article, I’ll be a little more blunt and direct in my own assessment of how I view our political leaders’ level of French.
(1) Prime Minister Stephen Harper
- His French sounds broken with a very heavy English accent.
- You’d get the impression his vocabulary consists of 200 to 300 words, used over and over and over and over again.
- On top of that, you’d think that he only knows the same 30 sentences, which again, he uses over and over and over.
- He sounds like a robot (or a broken record) with inflections in the wrong places (imagine him using a robot-voice to say “Trust-me-I-am-the-person-you-should-trust-I-will-give-you-tax-breaks-so-you-should-vote-for-my-party-and-for-me-because-my-platform-says-we-reduced-taxes-by-X-amount-in-X-number-of-years.. … … ).
- Linguistically, he’s never been able to forge personal connections with the public via the media. It’s human nature that you vote for people who connect with you, and he doesn’t. The polls show the same thing. Thus, any votes he will get from Francophones will likely be votes for his party or platform, but not for the person.
- Do you remember Jean Chrétien’s English and how people used to laugh and make jokes about it? Bluntly put, Stephen Harper’s is worse.
- All-in-all: Tough to take him seriously when he has a tough time explaining complex subjects of national or global importance to you any better than a 6 year old could.
(2) Justin Trudeau
- If Oxford English had a haughty Canadian French equivalent, that would be Trudeau’s French. Furthermore, linguistically, he just can’t seem to be able to drop it and come down to earth – to “our” level.
- He chops it up with a weird accent, as if there’s a tinge of an English background with an English accent. That’s not something to hold against him, but it plays against the “high-level” French he’s speaking with. It makes you wonder where his French comes from (since people generally don’t speak like this on a day-to-day basis). I read his autobiography, and I can tell you where it comes from: In his book he admits himself that he did not attend grade-school with other Francophones in Ottawa (he attended and played mostly with Anglophone kids in French Immersion). He said when he moved to Montréal later in life, he felt linguistically lost to such an extent that he could not understand common expression or slang. Thus this begs an answer to the question of how can you relate (or appear to relate) to others if you cannot communicate like them?
- All-in-all: His language disconnect (not speaking like the common man or woman) makes him sound distant from the common person. You feel he’s an outsider… which has the effect of reducing your confidence in him (and his credibility). His measures to try to convince you otherwise (like getting a haircut and rolling up his sleeves) therefore come across as a show, an act, and insincere. In politics, coming across as linguistically haughty and “above others” (as if talking down to others) is not good. That’s perhaps not the message I think he wants to portray, but that is how he comes across.
(3) Thomas Mulcair
- He speaks excellent, fluent French, depite what I perceive as a medium-level English accent.
- In the Montréal Gazette article, one expert says he has just a tinge of an English accent, whereas the other expert says his accent is a Montréal accent — I disagree with both of them. He has more than a “tinge” of an English accent, and it has nothing to do with Montréal.
- All-in-all: With that being said, his command of vocabulary, tone, speed, and whit is excellent. He has no problems communicating. If he were to lose the English accent, unlike Trudeau and Harper, he would not have to adjust his vocabulary, expressions, manner of speaking or anything else – he’s got it down pat. He speaks well enough to make a connection with Francophone voters and to gain their trust (and the polls prove this).
(4) Elizabeth May
- I’ll start with the nice, and I’ll finish with the mean.
- Nice: For someone who grew up in a completely Anglophone environment in Nova Scotia, and who has lived much of her adult life on Vancouver Island, I say koodos to her for gaining as broad a vocabulary as she has. She’s further along than many others with her background.
- Mean: Nonetheless, from a French-language standpoint, vis-a-vis being able to hold up herself up in a debate, she’s an absolute train wreck. My four year old nephew could probably do as well as her in the debate.
- With that said, her comprehension is probably as good as a 15 year-old, allowing her to understand almost everything that is said. But it sounds like a disaster when you use a four year old’s vocabulary to answer adult questions
- Here’s another jab at it … just to drive the point home: Question: Elizabeth May, what do you think of Harper’s recent policy announcements made in 2015. Answer: Harper bad bad no nice man, so you no no vote he. You vote me! Okie? You me like? Yes, we like. Yes you vote me and we clean environment, It be clean clean good Earth! With me Prime Minister is now Canada good place! Vote! Green is pretty. Colour good. Vote!)
(5) Gilles Duceppe:
- He’s Francophone, and he can linguistically can make himself sound like he can relate to anyone.
- Language level earns trust (you trust people who sound like you). Thus polls show him as one of the most trusted people in Québec. It’s just his party which people don’t trust (that can be a problem, and Elizabeth May may even get more votes than him. So … bye bye Gilles).
Here is the English-language Montréal Gazette article I mentioned above (with video examples):
If you wish to subject yourself to this linguistic plane crash of epic proportions (just for the kicks if for nothing else), you can watch it nationally across Canada tonight at 8pm on Radio-Canada.
Here is a Radio-Canada run-up article for what I am sure will sound like children trying to fight with adults (that’s what happens when you run for national politics when your language skills are less than fluent). http://ici.radio-canada.ca/sujet/elections-canada-2015/2015/09/24/003-debat-chefs-francais.shtml
Last word: Even if you have a credible plan, it will all go to schnoot and you will crash and burn if your language skills do not allow you to make that badly needed connection.
And one more last word… One of the hosts of the debates tonight will be Anne-Marie Dusseault (the host of RDI television’s political opinion show 26/60).
After following her show for many years, I believe she is one of Radio-Canada’s most visibly biased opinion makers.
Her facial expressions say it all, even if her words don’t… Show her a picture of Harper or Trudeau = disgusted frown like she just ate a lemon… Show her a picture of Gilles Duceppe or Mulcair = smile of orgasmic proportions.
(Coincidentally, when she hosted the live broadcast of PKP’s coronation of the Parti Québécois, you almost had the impression you were watching her win the lottery!)
Needless to say, those in tonight’s debate who already are plagued with language “issues” will also have Dusseault to contend with. It should be entertaining. Enjoy!!
Sigh x 5
SOME POST-DEBATE REMARKS….
The debate just finished and a few of us just watched it.
A couple of things stood out…
- This seemed to be one of the more “tame” French-language debates of the last few election cycles (likely because of past debates had greater numbers of participants with higher language competencies）。
- Elizabeth May’s French (and confidence in speaking French) has visibly progressed. Her grammar, speed, and vocabulary was much better than past events which tested her language skills to the limits. It’s evident she has made strides. Her competency still was at lower level than other participants, but she managed to get in several well-worded jabs, closed argument gaps which others left open, and considering her polling numbers, she certainly occupied her fair share (even more than her fair share) of the debate.
As for the others, really nothing different than what I mentioned above (both Harper and Trudeau appeared more hesitant than I expected them to be… I don’t know if that was because of language, or because of… well… the way they are).
Winners on who did the best with the language skills they have (which is different than political winners)? I have two picks:
- Muclair (for his ease of language and being able to stay on top of all the questions), and
- Elizabeth May (because her language skills required her to stay on topic, and she actually did, more so than others)
But don’t read anything political into that. I am still not telling you who I’m voting for 😉
Here is a great example of the two solitudes.
Two of social media’s top trending articles this week in English Canada were relating to
- The CBC/Radio-Canada’s president stating for the first time that government budget cuts may pose a risk to the public broadcaster’s very existence, and
In reaction to these two articles, English Canada’s social media has gone bazerk over the past few days. Voices all over English Canada’s social media have been crying that this is the end of the world, and that the government must stop.
They are pleading for something to be done, they are questioning why nobody in Canada has done anything to date. They are begging for measures to be taken, and to accomplish this, people are advocating that a new and novel measure must be taken to send the government a message.
In the last few days, English Canada’s social media has been advocating for…
… hold your britches…
… this is big…
… here it is…
… a petition to the government!
Face palm x 20!… no… x 100!!!
You know, I am going to have to choose my words very carefully for the rest of this post.
The remainder of this post will be a message for those in English Canada who are calling for a petition (thinking it will change the world).
A petition, unfortunately, is not going to cut it. That is peanuts, and I will tell you why (because you obviously have no idea about what has been happening).
Francophone supporters of CBC/Radio-Canada (the French side of the corporation) are already waaaaaay ahead of you.
In fact, you are already eating their dust without even realizing it.
For more than a year (yes, more than a year) these supporters have gone to extreme lengths you are obviously are not aware of. They have tried many ways (in French) to stem the government cuts of CBC/Radio-Canada, and to garner public support.
- They held huge public concerts: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0X-_9Y1_X9iuP1PuL6S6LA,
- Even Chris Hadfield joined the French concerts to save the CBC/Radio-Canada: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8emTJYh9Rg
- The government of Ontario got involved to support the French-language concerts and protests by sending one of its own ministers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8emTJYh9Rg
- Thousands of regular people, from the public, have poured into the streets, marching in protest, over and over and over again… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Jye6tXIGaM
- Supporters of CBC/Radio-Canada have made music videos and have broadcast them to 8 million Francophones all over Québec and to 1 million Francophones outside Québec (across in Canada) – and to anyone else all across Canada who would be open enough to listen. These music videos have featured super-stars and celebrities from all walks of life… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ircuNoms-A
- When that didn’t work (by threatening the conservatives with new voting intentions), they did it again… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRjI9AlXwIg
- … and again… and again… and again… and again… https://www.youtube.com/user/jesuisradiocanada/videos
If you truly believe, after all of this, that a revolutionary “petition” will work, then you really are in la-la land.
After all of these efforts by a huge part of Canada, it is obvious the only way to curb funding cuts to CBC/Radio-Canada would be to vote for a new government (regardless of which government that may be, and regardless of my own voting intentions or political view on this or any other subject).
Here’s the really sad thing…
For the past year, English Canada and its media have simply been oblivious the huge efforts of French Canada’s public to try to bring this subject to the fore.
All the protests, concerts, videos, advertisements and conferences made nobody blink? Seriously?
After all of this, I’m having a hard time accepting that it was two puny articles which made English Canada’s social media explode this week! For crying out loud.
It’s disturbing to see a huge chunk of Canada (the French portion) go to extreme efforts, but yet the other chunk of the country (English Canada) was simply oblivious to more than a year of French Canada’s sounding of the alarm.
That, people, is what we call the “Two Solitudes.”
Perhaps a new government will also beef up spending for French language education for Anglophones, and perhaps… just maybe… those crying for a petition will self-enroll.
Now wouldn’t that be something?
People are still talking about the Gémeaux awards (the subject of the last post).
Usually the Gémeaux awards is an event which comes and goes in the same night, and then nobody gives it any thought until the following year.
But this years’ Gémeaux seems a little different – and I wonder if it is morphing as a new focus on Québec’s cultural scene in general.
A few things which have captured the public’s attention:
- This is perhaps the only (or one of the only) Gémeaux gala events which was co-hosted by two people. The dynamics between the TV hosts and comedians Véronique Cloutier and Éric Salvail just keep getting quirkier – and they took that quirkiness to the Gémeaux.
Below is an earlier video of the two of them seemingly getting a little smashed, tipsy and a little loose-lipped (??) together on TV…
Here is a cultural difference between Anglophone and Francophone Canada if I’ve ever seen one:
How many shooters of Smirnoff Vodka did you count them down during the taping of the episode???
Despite francophone and anglophone TV sharing the same CRTC with the same TV rules, I often get the feeling francophone TV can – and does – get a away with waaaaay more on air, including on-air drinking and profanity…
If you’re wondering what the heck crazy-ass show this is, it is called “Les recettes Pompettes” (Translation: “Recipes with a Buzz”) with Éric Salvail as the host.
His job is to basically get every celebrity in Québec (minus Celine Dion) as drunk as a skunk… and I suppose perhaps make food while they’re at it — if they can still see clearly by the time it’s ready to put in the oven).
It airs on “V” television station. The show’s website is http://vtele.ca/emissions/les-recettes-pompettes/
- This year’s awards also included comedic sketches pertaining to many well-known cultural references, including this one which has gone down as somewhat of a classic in Québec television (images are self-explanatory)…
- And then there is the one “thing” which has caused the radio-waves to light up for the past 24 hours and tongues to wave non-stop all over Québec… People are asking what is happening to Julie Snyder and if there is reason for concern. Sometimes people are being sympathetic, but others are being downright nasty… very very nasty:
Politics and entertainment is never a good mix… And the cameras are bringing this mix straight to us on our screens – right in our faces, right in our homes.
With all of Québec’s cultural who’s who finally reunited at the Gémeaux awards for the first time in 10 years, I have a feeling that this event will continue to grow as a cultural (and perhaps off-stage controversial) highlight in Québec’s annual calendar.
Last night were the annual Gémeaux awards.
You may recall last year’s post explaining what they are: “And the winners are…“
They’re basically the television awards for French television. Technically speaking, they’re not specifically restricted to Québec television (programs from networks outside of Québec, such as Toronto’s “UNIS” are also in the running), and they are sponsored by the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television since 1985.
But owing to the vast majority of Canada’s French-language programming being produced and aired in Montréal (refer to post “Montréawood television”), the Gémeaux awards are by practical default the Québec television awards.
One thing which I learned from this year’s awards is that the TVA version of La Voix (The Voice) has the world’s highest per-capital viewership of any of the 56 countries which produce versions of the program.
This year was the 30th awards ceremony, and there were changes.
Julie Snyder (who produces for TVA) and Fabienne Larouche (who produces for Radio-Canada) are two of the major television producers whose programs constitute a large portion of French-produced television. Yet 10 years ago, they began a boycott of the awards owing to how they objected how the Academy’s votes were awarded.
Last night was their first night returning to the ceremonies after the académie decided to revamp what criteria they take into consideration to decide how a program or person wins awards.
Other “improbable personalities” (owing to past public spats or rumored disagreements) also appeared together under one roof (the Morrissettes [Véronique and Louis] cooperating with PKP/Snyder, Véronique Cloutier ho-hosting with Éric Salvail, etc).
Therefore the night was dubbed the “Night of large reconciliations”.
Here is a video embedded in a Rad-Can news report on the “reconcilation”
If you want to watch the opening act of the awards, you can view the last video at the bottom in the following Rad-Can news report:
Article of interest: French new wave: A cultural shift for Toronto as ‘invisible francophones’ settle in [Globe & Mail] (#356)
Click above link to read the article
An interesting read from the Globe & Mail on the rapid grown of new Francophone schools across Toronto.
It’s a trend which reflects the new inter-connectivity between Francophones who are otherwise quite evenly spread across a very large geographic area (which comprises the GTA).
My own commentary: Don’t ever forget that societal and political change (in terms of attitudes) often closely follows major institutional change. This is one more positive step towards bringing down the barriers between the Two Solitudes.