We’re onto Day 4 of the 43rd General Election and the first weekend of campaign events. The first few days have been interesting to watch, to see how the different campaigns are dealing with things and what the different leaders are having to say. Some of it has been pretty boilerplate stuff, nothing to write how about, but some of it has been gobsmackingly bad stuff.
For the prime example of the bad, we have to look at Green leader Elizabeth May and her attempts to defend her party’s positions on a few issues, including abortion, free votes and amazingly of all, the unity of the country. May has been trying to make a virtue of saying that she has no power to whip, punish or stop her MPs from doing anything, even if that means doing things that are supposedly against Green policy. Her continued responses have become a hash of mixed, contradictory words that were starting to boarder on silly.
In the case of her new candidate Pierre Nantel and his avowed sovereigntist bent, this has reached some amazing new heights, or lows, depending on your point of view. Over the past few days Nantel has said again and again that he is a sovereigntist, yet Ms. May keeps saying he’s not. After the Maclean’s/CityTv debate on Thursday night, she clearly said that Nantel was not in favour of Quebec’s sovereignty, despite the fact that a few hours earlier he had said, clear, “yes I am”. And whenever she has been confronted with these facts, she’s said it simply isn’t true and has tried to move on. As a result, this issue simply hasn’t gone away.
That lead us to yesterday, when May did another interview with CBC’s Vassy Kapelos. If you remember, she did one earlier this week which kicked off a lot of her troubles when she said she couldn’t stop a Green MP from trying to re-open the abortion debate. Remember, she has no power according to her. During this new interview, she was asked about the Nantel situation and she delivered probably one of the biggest whoppers of an answer that I’ve seen in a very long time:
Everyone, that is some of the most amazing attempts of linguistic gymnastics that I’ve ever seen and to further that metaphor, she lost grip of the bars and did a face plant on the mat below. That answer was about as bad as they come, and if you needed confirmation of that, check out the responses from the media covering this campaign:
The incredulity of those responses tells you everything you need to know about what May did there with her response. To be crystal clear, “sovereigntist” and “separatist” mean the exact same thing. The difference is that calling someone a “sovereigntist” is the polite way do doing it, while calling someone a “separatist” is an insult, is used in the pejorative and carries more negative connotations. Most people from outside of Canada would never know this difference, but when I went to work for Romeo Saganash, I learned that lesson quickly. During my first trip to Val-d’Or after Romeo’s election, I was chatting with a former colleague and in the course of the conversation I used the term “separatiste”. She quickly and politely corrected me, explained the difference and we went on our way. The lesson of that story? Words matter folks.
That’s what makes what May tried and failed to do yesterday so bad on so many levels. It left two possibilities. It showed that either she has no idea what the difference there actually is, and what it means, which would be a stunning bad thing for any federal leader, let alone the one who comes into this campaign as the one whose lead her party for the longest time of the group. It would show that she doesn’t know some of the basics about Quebec and the whole issue, which would put that whole “national unity isn’t a core Green value” comment from earlier in the week into a new light.
The other option here is that she knows all of this full well, that she knows the difference, knows the connotations and knows it all, yet she is trying to muddy the waters and deceive voters about what is really going on here. That’s far from doing politics differently and would really run counter to everything the Greens say the like to represent. Neither of those options are good.
But there is one final possibility, one that I’m seeing increasingly as this campaign goes along. Maybe Elizabeth May is incapable of apologizing or admitting when she’s made a mistake. Think about it, we’ve seen a few examples now through out this campaign. She refused to admit an mistake in her SNC-Community Service proposal that was so insulting. In that case, she got upset at those who pointed out how flawed and insulting that idea was. When the whole fiasco that took place in New Brunswick over a week ago, Ms. May refused to admit any wrong doing in that case, and she attacked the NDP, saying that they bullied these people back into the fold, which was not the case. And now in the case of Pierre Nantel, she refuses to accept the truth that is staring her in the face, even as Nantel tells everyone that basically, she’s wrong. This is a possibility worth considering, especially because it seems that if it’s the case, it continues to undermine the Green campaign.
Regardless of the reason or explanation, this has been a spectacularly bad start for the Green campaign. For a party that thought it was going to have their chance at a break through and become a bigger force in our politics, this has been an objectively bad start. They seemed to have been caught off guard by some of the simplest of issues and have given some amazingly bad and dismissive answers to those mess up. It all screams of a party that might be in over it’s head, or at least a leader who is. We’ll see if the second week of the Green campaign is better than the first but that mistake made on CBC last night is the kind of mistake that is almost never overcome. That is the kind of mistake that can define a campaign and for a party who thought they were on the rise, that could bring them crashing back down to Earth, with the rest of us Earthlings.