Sad comment on the language of politics

La nation québécoise vue du Canada

It's good that so much of our politics these days is incomprehensible gooblahoy. It means folks like me can also get away with saying silly things every now and then. Phew.

For instance, if you happen to remember a female columnist who looks vaguely like me recently suggesting that Michael Ignatieff would win the Liberal leadership race, just dismiss it as mere words that weren't meant to mean anything. There are good reasons why I didn't think Stéphane Dion's victory possible, which I'll explain on Thursday. Or I could just grovel - we'll see. But meanwhile, toss what I said into the nonsense bin, along with a huge number of other pronouncements by, or about, politicians.

Mind you, it's not clear whether there's still room in the nonsense bin, we've been stuffing so much rhetorical junk into it lately. And no, I don't just mean at the Liberal convention, although Mr. Ignatieff's description of the Liberals as a party that stands for “A Canada where hope is shared not squandered” was awfully vacuous.

It was almost as bad as Conservative Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon's explanation of who is, and isn't, a Québécois. Because I have an act-charitable quota to fill this week, I will refrain from quoting it. Instead I will cite another of his, ah, creative linguistic exercises during that same Nov. 27 press conference when he described what the famous nation motion was supposed to mean: “Tonight, this resolution, after 40 years, is recognizing the decisions made on several occasions by the Québécois and Québécoises to say, we are part of Canada.”

I challenge you to find me one Québécois/Quebecer who would volunteer, or endorse, this description. It's so obvious that's not what the motion is meant to mean. Why do politicians keep claiming words have meaningless meanings, and insist on stringing stuff together that doesn't belong together?

Take Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, who explained in the Globe and Mail that, “As a native-born Quebecer who learned French at the bilingual University of Ottawa, I consider my roots to be Québécois, and rejoice at the cultural expansion and linguistic vibrancy of the French language, Québécois history and culture in Quebec and elsewhere.” I'm glad Mr. Segal is happy that Québécois history is expanding elsewhere. But I'm pretty sure it's not something histories tend to do. And what, pray tell, does it have to do with his considering himself a Québécois kind of Quebecer?

No, on second thought don't try to explain. Instead spell out for me what so many Liberal leadership candidates think they mean when they tell us the environment is so dashed important. As the Citizen's Charles Gordon noted, “To hear the speeches, you would have thought the Liberals had actually done something about it during their last 13 years in office.”
Which of course they didn't, if by “doing something” we mean “more than just yak endlessly about their inherent moral superiority”. If you say something is really important it means you'll really do something given the chance. But they were and they didn't.

Of course Liberals routinely get away with stuff like that. For instance in lecturing everyone about the need to do a better job promoting gender equity while utterly neglecting Martha Hall Findlay, the lone female leadership contender. It's as annoying as people who dismissed the “unilingual” Gerard Kennedy but never applied the same label to Stéphane Dion even though Mr. Kennedy's French is roughly as good (or bad) as Mr. Dion's English. Talk about words not meaning much.

Ah, but if words were meant to mean anything, we wouldn't be where we are today, i.e. facing yet another round of convoluted debates over the definition of marriage. While nobody was looking, the Conservatives announced they would table a motion asking the government “to introduce legislation to restore the traditional definition of marriage without affecting civil unions and while respecting existing same-sex marriages.”

Why they don't simply introduce legislation, since they are the government, I don't know. Why ask yourself to do something? It probably depends on the meaning of “ask”. Besides, since whatever they introduce on the subject is bound to be defeated in the House, why not keep it clear and simple? Like where you either restore the traditional definition of marriage or respect existing same-sex marriages.
If you thought the debate over who exactly is a Québécois was head-bending, wait until reporters ask Justice Minister Vic Toews to explain why his government wants to create two radically different legal regimes governing same-sex unions.

I'd rather be stuck explaining why I was wrong to predict an Ignatieff victory. Some gooblahoy is a lot easier to rationalize.

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