Archive for October, 2008

Election day looms in Canada.

One of the main issues of the moment centres on Liberal leader St├ęphane Dion’s alleged inability to understand English.

In PM Stephen Harper’s view, this renders Dion unfit to handle the economy.

The question he supposedly stumbled over is, “If you were prime minister now, what would you have done about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper has not done?”

M. Dion, a French speaker at heart, attempted to clarify the question several times.

The question is a mixed conditional which references a hypothetical present and past in the same sentence.

Nothing wrong with that. “If I were rich at this point, I wouldn’t have bothered going to work last week.”

Nothing wrong with M. Dion clarifying when this hypothetical past is supposed to have started either.

As the pre-recorded interview kicked off a third time, the interviewer emphasized the time frame he was getting at:

“No. No. If you were prime minister during this time already.”

Ah “during this time already”. Why didn’t he say that in the first place?

I’ll use this Canadianism more often in future. When I’m striving for real clarity.

“Did you finish that report”

During this time already!”

“So it’s finished or you’re still working on it?

“That’s right! During this time already!”

“Enough already! I thought you Brits spoke proper English”

“Well, people say we used to. But then again maybe not during this time already if you see what I mean.”

“Right. Thanks for the clarification.”


Of course, if the interviewer had known how to construct a half-decent past conditional question with just the right amount of “woulds”, none of this would have happened, would it?

The election is on Tuesday. With English/French entente at these levels, this is going to be an inordinately productive minority government.


Full text of interview is here.

A Toronto Star article is here.

Here’s a more earnest interpretation from the National Post.

And here’s the smugly patronising CTV clip.


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