The French Language Debates

I watched the French debates in French last night but flipped back and forth between the French versions and the translated ones.

I am always amused when the translator’s voices don’t quite match their subjects. Layton had a Scottish accent, Ignatieff came off as a plummy Brit and Harper sounded like he was on helium.

There were, as one would expect,  some of the typical errors one expects of tired men struggling in a second language. I laughed out loud when Layton talked about wanting to punish those who recruit gang members by making it a ‘cream.’

The French debates, I have to say, were far more energized and active than the English translations gave them credit for. The moderators were superb: they brought the focus back repeatedly to the questions asked, reframing them in a way that left the speakers nowhere to hide. Perhaps the act of speaking a second language removed the ability of the debaters to nuance their words, but I got much more out of watching this one than I did the others.

Layton enjoyed himself, clearly. He looked better and sounded better than he did in the English debates. Is he Prime Ministerial material? Of course not, but he’s fearless and that’s what you want in your Opposition.

Harper, by contrast, was invisible most of the time. Today’s Montreal Gazette says Harper ‘stumbled’ while Duceppe shone. Once again, I had the mental image of someone on roofies. He spent most of his time at the side of the podium watching the others, something he rarely did in the English language debates when he spent most of his time trying to find that sweet spot in the camera lens where you can pretend you’re looking at people directly.

Ignatieff, for his part, finally found the camera and I thought it loved him. He was elegant in his pink shirt (don’t forget the importance of style in Quebec for a single moment), as well as passionate and relaxed. He is the first politician in some time who has been brave enough to tell Quebeckers that he doesn’t see the Constitution and their perceived exclusion from it as an issue or a priority. 

Layton, on the other hand, was quite prepared to re-open that whole constitutional can of worms.)  No wonder he did better in the eyes of Quebecers than Ignatieff, but surely that distinction should have been the headliner in anglophone Canada as well. (As I recall, Layton was still in municipal politics in Toronto when we went through Charlottetown and Meech Lake: if he’d been involved federally, I doubt he’d be so eager to promise any kind of constitutional change.)

According to the polling done immediately after the French debates, Layton and Duceppe ‘won’ the debate, Ignatieff was a solid ‘second’ and Harper came last. In fact, a good number of respondents in Quebec said that their view of Harper worsened as a result of the debate, while Layton’s and Ignatieff’s had improved.

Will it make a difference? Well, with Ekos showing a horse race in Ontario between the Liberals and Conservatives (38-38) and Nanos showing the Liberals ahead there (42-38) any support the NDP or Liberals gain in Quebec could shift the balance considerably. My guess, for what it’s worth, is that the Tories can forget about Quebec and that the Liberals will improve their percentage of the vote there, but will probably see Outremont stay with the NDP’s heir-apparent to Layton, Thomas Mulcair.

All that will change, however, if Quebec sees any momentum with the Liberals as we get closer to election day. Quebecers, don’t forget, are mistrustful of Harper and with reason, but they do like to back a winner. The Quebec vote can shift quickly if change is in the air.


Peggy’s regular blog posts on writing and getting published will resume on May 3rd, after the Canadian election.

This entry was posted in Election 2011 and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The French Language Debates

  1. Brian Aguinaga says:

    Peggy – I listened to the translated debates too. Seems to me that a lot more Anglos were showing interest in the French debate this time around as well. I could have chosen to listen in French, but I didn’t want to have to concentrate that much. It was doing other things at the same time and it often moved into the background of my consciousness.

    I did enjoy the differences between the translators voices and accents. There was a lot of joking in social media about how The Consortium had brought Sean Connery in to translate for Jack. I’m curious as to how many people subconsciously judged how the different leaders did based on how much they liked their translator’s voice.


  2. Peggy Blair says:

    They were all a bit off, weren’t they? I too kept waiting for Jack Layton to say something about Misshush Moneypenny …. 🙂
    Of course, the beauty of listening to both debates and flipping back and forth is that you discover how much content is reliant on translation as well. For example, Ignatieff kept using the word ‘concrete’ in French as in, ‘a concrete example’ of how his government would act on X or Y, but the translator occasionally substituted other adjectives like ‘tangible’ which made Ignatieff seem more fluent than was the case. He struggled a bit in French, I thought, at least for the first hour, and then he started to relax and was pretty good.


  3. Political Polls out themselves as worthless

    OTTAWA – Canada’s notoriously competitive pollsters have some surprisingly uniform advice about the parade of confusing and conflicting numbers they’re about to toss at voters ahead of a possible spring election:

    Take political horse race polls with a small boulder of salt.

    “Pay attention if you want to but, frankly, they don’t really mean anything,” sums up Andre Turcotte, a pollster and communications professsor at Carleton University.

    He has even more pointed advice for news organizations that breathlessly report minor fluctuations in polling numbers: “You should really consider what is the basis for your addiction and maybe enter a ten-step program.”

    And for fellow pollsters who provide the almost daily fix for media junkies: “I think pollsters should reflect on what this does to our industry. It cheapens it.”

    Turcotte’s blunt assessment is widely shared by fellow pollsters, including those who help feed the media addiction to political horse race numbers.

    Point 8:25 in the video:
    Peter Mansbridge on CBC discusses story of the year: worthless polls

    We invited Allan Gregg from Harris Decima (and the At Issue Panel on The National) and Paul Adams, assistant professor at the Carleton school of journalism. Adams covered Parliament Hill for the CBC and The Globe and Mail. He also worked for EKOS Research. Here’s that conversation:


    With seemingly perpetual minority governments and federal elections every few years, you’d think business would be booming for Canada’s polling companies. But a leading researcher says disappearing home phones and the rise of online polling are making things harder for the established players, and making their data less reliable.

    In the 1970s and 80s, polling companies would get response rates as high as 80 per cent. Today, the figure has plunged to somewhere between 10 and 15 per cent, estimates Queen’s University political studies professor Scott Matthews.–hard-times-in-the-polling-business?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=twitter_dot_com_forward_slash_ElectionBRK_brought_to_you_by_INTELLIGENCEBRK_DOT_COM_contact_us_at_INFO_AT_INTELLIGENCEBRK_DOT_COM&utm_term=Canadian_Election_News


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s