Steve Murphy CTV asks Stephane Dion a poorly worded question

Like most people, my first reaction to Stephane Dion’s choke was to laugh and ridicule him for evading the question. However, upon reading and paying close attention to a transcript of the interview, it is obvious that Dion’s misunderstanding of the question is justified. The question is unfairly worded and the timing is unclear. Here it is:

Steve Murphy: If you were Prime Minister now, what would you have done about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper has not done?

What Mr. Harper may or may not have done is an action of the past tense. However, the question asks about now. The timing of when this hypothetical action that Steve Murphy wants to know is unclear. An ideal policy NOW does not necessarily have to be the same as an ideal policy that should have been done in the past.* I think it would have been wiser if Mr. Murphy did not use the word “now” in his question and simply asked: “If you were Prime Minister, blah blah blah….”

If anybody still thinks that Dion was evading the question, I think you are being unfair. I challenge you to translate Murphy’s question in French (or any other language for that matter) and see if it can possibly be clear. I do not think it is possible.

* I do not think the ideal policy would be any different regardless of the timing of this hypothetical question but that is just me. I am not in full agreement with either Dion or Harper on economic policy. My preference is for a little bit more laissez-faire in the economy.

Scale Tip to Paul Holmes for the transcript.

UPDATED THOUGHTS (Sunday, October 12th, 2008):
There is so much nonsense that is being posted in the comments that I want to say that I am encouraged by the non-partisan comments on this topic which recognize Steve Murphy’s obvious bad grammar and ambiguous question. After mulling this topic over and hearing partisans repeatedly insist that it is a clear question in their opinion, something just dawned on me: it is blindly ignorant to point out that the question was explained to him multiple times and thus, Dion has no excuse. He does have an excuse: the audience only hears an ambiguous question.

Steve Murphy should have recognized that his question was ambiguous to both Dion and possibly to the audience. The audience could very well misinterpret the question too. If Steve Murphy is going to re-explain his question off-air, he should re-phrase his question on-air for the audience. Why did he keep asking the exact same ridiculously worded question? Thus, Dion’s answer — no matter what it may be — will alienate some of the audience who thinks he did not answer the question. He would be damned no matter what.

Furthermore, whoever decided to air this piece probably did a disservice to the media industry.

MORE THOUGHTS (Monday, October 13th, 2008):
The blatant ambiguity of Steve Murphy’s question makes me cynical: I think it could have been a trap.

Nevertheless, my suspicion is that politicians will be hesitant to perform spontaneous interviews in the future. I will not be surprised if they demand written questions ahead of time and formally reserving broadcast rights.


  1. Alberta Girl says

    There was no evasion of the question. He did not understand it, period. Poorly worded – give me a break. This man wants to be prime minister – how many “poorly worded” questions will he get during that time. He had the question explained off camera, so there is no excuse for him not to have understood it.

    Besides, the not getting the question is he least of my worries. What worries me is the fact that when he finally got the question, his answer was that he would have meetings within 30 days to talk to economists to find out what he should do. WHAT!!!

    All this time he has been ruthless about Stephen Harper – a man who not only hasto campaign in an election; but has to deal with an economic crisis at the same time – not knowing what he is doing, not having a plan.

    I think the question was fair given the circucumstances.

    And now we get all the poor Stephane, look how the meanie Tories are jumping on him. Well sorry, but if the shoe were on the other foot – and it has been many, many times in this election – there was no mercy shown; it was front page news for days, comments were used to show SH uncaring side; 5 year old tapes were brought up and used; etc.etc. etc.

    So please don’t try to pass this off as a poorly worded question; because that is not the issue.

  2. Agent Smith says

    Poorly worded? If you want to feel sorry for Dion go ahead but I’m not buying it. The question was clear.

  3. Sean McAllister says

    Poorly worded? After the question had been repeated 3 times off camera and done over and over again? This is not a trick question. It is a question asked that requires an answer without being coached, guided, or coddled. As a PM he would face many questions from many different Leaders, and will be asked many questions. Do we want a PM that has to have all the questions repeated 2-3 times and then ask his staff to explain it to him? SD can act (barely) capable when given time to prepare, but in real time, as reality tends to be, he is a total failure. Anyone that says different is wearing blinders.

  4. says

    The explanation for Dion’s poor handling of the question is quite simple.

    Highly-educated people have a tendency to mistake *precision* for *clarity.* Dion wanted a more precise question; what most people heard was a *clear* question.

    I’m still not sure that it would have made a difference in the way he eventually answered the question, though.

  5. Harpermania says

    There was certainly not a hearing problem as Dion nodded vigourously to the comments the interviewer first made. Jack Layton certainly would have rhymed off an answer without problem(not that I would have agreed w/ it at all). The issue is that Dion in December accused Harper of fearmongering about the economic downturn. He is a one issue guy and the economy is certainly not his bag. He heard the question perfectly well – he was completely incapable to answer it – it is not a sound bite gone bad – it is a perfectly representative picture of his ability.

  6. herringchoker says

    I can’t say I agree with you Charles. Remember earlier in the campaign a reporter asked “If you were a vegetable, what type of vegetable would you be, and why? (or words to that effect). That was the type of question that could be called unfair, because there really are not very many ways of answering without coming across looking silly. By contrast, the question to Dion (what would you have done differently) was a bit of a softball. Had he been better prepared, Dion could have easily hit it out of the park. Instead he overanalysed the question and the result was a very tortured exchange. Personally I felt sorry for him, but I’m not running to be PM.

    The real problem is that this is another example of “gotcha” journalism. Its certainly not the first example, nor even the worst example from this campaign. Personally I think the media pouncing on Lee Richardson, an MP whose record in office goes back to the 1970s, as a closet racist over a comment was more egregious.

    There’s a language element at play here to be sure, but that really shouldn’t be overdone. Dion had an assistant with him in the interview (you hear her voice in the clip) who understood the question. She could have posed the question back to him in French for clarity. He has no one else to blame that she didn’t.

  7. wilson says

    Charles, listen to Dion’s first answer…

    ‘I would start a 30/50 plan what we want to…’

    Dion realized the just crossed wires with the script for his ‘poverty ‘plan, asked for a restart.

    Dion could not wrap his head around the question because there was no script drilled into his brain along the lines:
    ‘what Harper should have done when the crisis hit, and didn’t’.

    That’s because PMSH did everything conceivable to head off the crisis, and they know it.
    In fact, Liberals didn’t see it coming, at all..

  8. Surecure says

    I can agree with you to a point that the question could have been worded differently. But, that’s not to say that the question was poorly worded or that Dion should not have been able to pick up the underlying point that needed to be addressed by the question.

    Either way, Murphy very clearly explained what he meant, as can be seen on a transcription of what was said:

    He asked the question and clarified its position immediately the first time around. And yet he still had to repeat the question twice over for Dion to just spit out an answer.

    And to suggest he had a hearing problem on this case makes one wonder how he could have possibly made it through the debates or how — in wanting to be Prime Minister — he can function in media scrums where he has to address real issues in real time. Besides which, if you read the transcript, it is perfectly clear that Dion heard the question.

  9. Tom Langford says

    Steve Murphy is Katie Couric of the north.

    Evidently Steve has trouble understanding that Dion has already said what he would do. He did this during the last debate!

    The Conservative loving media in this country are starting to panic even if Harper is asleep at the wheel!


    The only gaffe here Steve Murphy made it by him being uninformed!!!

  10. Jan says

    It’s too bad the whole thing wasn’t being aired live. The story still might have become one of ‘it was unfair to ask such a confusing (to some) question’, but we would have had none of this ‘can we start over’ garbage. Dion would then have simply had to answer the question to the best of his ability and live with it.

    If he didn’t understand the conditions set by the interviewer he could have simply set his own set of circumstances by saying, “If I understand your question and I had been elected in Harper’s place . . .

    It is my firm belief that either he does not know what he would have done differently as an immediate response or he is unsure of what would be the best initial plan of action without consulting experts. This is evidenced by his subsequent answer.

    Either that or he is egotistic enough to believe that if he had been PM, none of this would be happening to us because his agenda would have Canada as a mere bystander to such world events.

  11. Tom Langford says

    Steve Murphy: If you were Prime Minister now, what would you have done about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper has not done?

    Hint If you were Prime Minister now,

    NOW present tense!!!!

    Hint::what would you have done about the economy

    Have done past tense!!!


    Could Steve do an interview in French?

  12. says

    “Evidently Steve has trouble understanding that Dion has already said what he would do. He did this during the last debate!”

    So, your saying that no reporter is allowed to ask the same question as one that Dion has already answered? I guess that would explain the lack of answers from Dion on the Green Shift Carbon tax .

    As the Liberal logic goes round and round and……..

  13. says

    I would be willing to give Dion the benefit of the doubt if he had just misunderstood the question the first time. He explained it, and they agreed to start over. Fair enough. But then bungling it twice more?! My credulity only extends so far!

  14. Alberta Girl says

    “Steve Murphy is Katie Couric of the north.

    Evidently Steve has trouble understanding that Dion has already said what he would do. He did this during the last debate!

    The Conservative loving media in this country are starting to panic even if Harper is asleep at the wheel!


    Tom – Canada is being hosed, but not by a “conservative loving media” that’s for sure. Canada is being hosed by the presentation of the “scripted professor” who got asked a legitimate question given his comments over the past week that Stephen Harper has failed in this crisis.

    The fact, Tom, is that even when Dion answered the question, he told us he would have had meetings with economists to see what they wanted him to do. Now that, Tom, is not the kind of leader I want for my country.

    For you in any way to blame this on the media shows that you are scrambling to cover for the meltdown of your beloved, yet absent minded professor.

    The only gaffe here Steve Murphy made it by him being uninformed!!!

  15. Alberta Girl says

    Opps – the last line in my “cut and paste” shows up in the wrong place. Disregard that last line – it is not part of my comment regarding Tom’s silly defense.

  16. Rick Hamilton says

    The question was poorly-worded, grammatically wrong, clumsy and made no sense! I’m a native English speaker who was confused…. did Murphy mean that Dion just became PM that day, or had been PM for 2 1/2 years, or had just been elected that day along with the rest of his government? I’m an ABC who was leaning heavily NDP this election, but now I’m wondering why the MSM are so hell-bent on destroying Dion, and I will probably park my vote with the Libs out of sympathy.

  17. allan says

    If Dion didn’t get the question, I really don’t care. I can forgive him for his “hearing issues” and English as not as a first language. What I can forgive is his answer after he finally understood the question. His plan is to take 30 days to develop a plan. In 30 days everything could go to crap. Dion has no plan and we need someone who can react calmly in a time of crisis. The Conversatives have taken real actions. They have moved to cut interest rates, assured mortgages, and improved banks access to credit.

  18. jcl says


    Not so fast. After the first time Dion asked for a clarification, Steve Murphy clearly stated “If you were Prime Minister now, and HAD BEEN FOR THE PAST 2 1/2 YEARS”……it was a very simple question.


  19. mark says

    It’s a basic question that anyone with an actual plan for the economy who is running for PM could have answered. If you were in Harper’s position now what would you have done differently? It ain’t rocket science. Liberals love to point fingers about any Conservative who isn’t fluent in french well that works both ways. If you can’t understand a simple question spoken in the dominant official language then you are not qualified to be PM of this country.

  20. jcl says

    And further, it seems his “handlers” had no problem reiterating and explaining the question to him after strike three….


  21. x2para says

    it was a simple question that even a simpleton could understand; the fact that these liberal hacks say the question was difficult to understand speaks volumes about their intellectual level

  22. The Right Honorable Terry Tory says

    Tom Langford says the media is Conservative biased: YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING!!!

    Tom Langford says the question was difficult, even after three attempts WITH his aid explaining and blamed the interviewer: LANGFORD, YOU NEED YOUR MEDS…AND YOUR PADDED ROOM.

    And Charles Anthony, I only hope you are somewhat excusing the unexcusable to get more traffic otherwise you need to move your blog to Cherniak land.

  23. says

    Terry Tory,
    I am not making excuses. The Liberals NOW may very well have a different idea on how to tackle the economy NOW but there is no logical reason to expect their idea to be the same in the past as a preventive measure.

    If you can not understand the difference, maybe an analogy might clue you in: replace “economy” with “dying of cancer” and Dion with a life-long cigarette smoker. The prescription NOW is to take the chemotherapy and pray but what he should have done BEFORE is to stop smoking. Get it??

  24. Alberta Girl says

    Rick says -” I’m a native English speaker who was confused…”

    Wow – Rick, the fact that that question “confused” you speaks volumes about you.

    And you are lying when you say you were going to park your vote with the NDP because if, after that display of Dion not even knowing what he would do except to have a meeting with economists to tell him what to do, you are going to vote out of sympathy for the Libs, you obviously do not care about having a buffon leading your country.

    But then again – you were “confused” by the question so I guess your critical thinking is impaired.

  25. says

    I think Steve Janke hits the nail on the head.

    It’s a simple question. In light of grilling Harper over the “wrong” thing to do, it’s simple: what would have been the “right” response? What would you have done, Stephane? He may have stretched the question a bit but the heart of it is “what would you have done”? And it is completely fair.

    And it was completely bungled.

    CTV was right: Canadians need to know that Dion has no answer to what was right – he never has. The last 2.5 years of parliament he has done nothing but “you’re wrong, Harper!” without ever offering a suggestion as to what was right. When he finally came out with an “idea”, it was the green shift, and nobody understood it or supported it – even his own party members.

    It boggles the mind that voters (especially in Quebec) are swayed by a bunch of whiny artists. So you can’t get federal funding for filming scat play. Who cares?

  26. steve arsenault says

    The media is wrong to have aired this! It made me upset to watch it because I know the difficulty in translating , in your head , English to French and Vice Versa. This question was hypothetical and Stephane did not understand it. HE WAS NOT AVOIDING IT! We can see him decoding the question in his head. Stephen Harper and Steve Murphy should both loose their jobs for this. There is too much finger pointing and accusations, and not enough ownership! We need leadership that takes responsibility and ownership of situations like this!

  27. The Right Honorable Terry Tory says

    “Terry Tory,
    I am not making excuses. The Liberals NOW may very well have a different idea on how to tackle the economy NOW but there is no logical reason to expect their idea to be the same in the past as a preventive measure.”

    What the interviewer really tried to explain to Dion was that if he was Harper what would have he done differently in the past (Hypothetically during his 2 /2 year mandate) to try and counter this coming economic problem or at least long term moves to keep Canada as strong as possible in the event of unforeseen economic issues in the future(The #1 priority for any leader, really). Harper cut taxes, reduced the debt and invested in key areas…What would have Dion done differently?

    I think Dion should of elaborated and ask questions on the question if he was’nt sure BEFORE asking the cameras to roll again. What was the rush to answer, if you are not sure and you are being given up to three chances to answer? Would’nt you want to make sure you have your best answer to a 100% understood question before the next take?
    Dion seems to suffer from 2 dimentional thinking. Pure academic…Follow the step by step instructions = Not leadership material.
    It is clear he had no answer except for his upcoming 30 day plan IF he becomes PM.

    Too bad all of the reports and youtube from Dion’s wife interviews have been conveniently pulled from the internet (I’m sure someone still has something out there on it). I would link a few to show how dangerous this man would be if he wins next Tuesday. Dion lives in “his own little world that’s often disconnected from others reality” according to her and that’s not all she said.

    As an aside, some other bloggers are saying this is a coup by the Liberal media (Initiated by CTV) to make it backfire on the Conservatives from a voters sympathy backlash…Same idea as Chretien’s face affliction. It’s not the same at all.

    If choosing a strong leader has come to the point of “saving the runt of the litter and giving it the best tit to suck” because we have become such effemitate bleeding hearts then God help us all.

    God help us all…I’m to the point where I almost wish the Liberals win. Canadians need to really suffer to wake up. Spoiled, undeserving of a democracy morons.

  28. gee says

    k – enough of the ‘Dion has already said what he would do. He did this during the last debate.”

    IF he said what he would do and it was more than rehearsed speeches and carefully angled positioning done by his writers, then he would STILL have an answer to the question!

    It was stated 3 times and even explained by an aid… how could anyone be comfortable with a man leading their country who clearly does not have a plan as he says but simply uses this tag line as a means of attempting to undermine the current party in charge.

    My fear? That he could actually win and how it would adversely affect our country in these very difficult economic times to come. Then again – if he did I would predict the Conservaticves to win the next election – majority – and stay in power for many many more years… it’s the historical trend the Liberals rode for many years after all…..

  29. ian says

    I think the problem is that as a politician Mr Dion is expected to be able to think on his feet and clearly he can’t…….language, hearing it doesn’t really matter, he can’t do the job!

  30. TangoJliette says

    Here we go Kiddies!
    A.B.C.s And Duffy’s “Tale of the Tapes.”
    A.B.C. ? Yeah, sure – A.B.C.!
    Anybody But Conservatives — are all ideologically determined to destroy Canada’s economy and future, as well as dismantle the national unity of Canada.
    Stephane Dion : He has a hearing problem? He didn’t understand the “uber tricky” question couched in that ”vile English language” and “viciously partisan” Conditional Subjunctive Tense? Gilles Duceppe has ridden to champion Dion? This is the man carrying the Liberal banner for the “natural governing party of Official Bilingualism and multi-culturalism?”
    Let’s see now. Stephane Dion spent a good part of his youth as a foot soldier for the separatists of Quebec. He turned his coat around and made it into the Liberal Cabinet. Yes. Those Liberals. The Officially Bilingual Liberals.
    For most of Dion’s past thirteen years in Ottawa, where he had access to some of the best language and speech coaches power could obtain, Stephane Dion seemed completely disinterested in bothering to attempt learning the primary usage language of most of the citizens of Canada.
    The flaw in this scenario lies not with the interviewer, nor with the interviewer’s line and language of questioning. The problem lies not with PM Harper’s comments or attacks on Dion’s language malfunction. The fault lies with Dion, with his party and with it’s machine.
    The Liberal consortium, for some green hats and scarves, elevated an unbending, arrogantly unilingual francophone academic, to run for the top post in a diverse, multicultural and officially bilingual nation. This is a leader who still seems to think that he, “M. Le professeur” is the epicentre of the classroom universe. But he’s no longer in the classroom. This is the real world, this is Canada. This is Canada, in a world in crisis mode.

    It is absolute folly of the most grievous stripe for Canada to be thinking about allowing a tragically-flawed character such as Stephane Dion, [a.k.a. Jiminy Criquette; Ichabod Qrueainne], to be voted into the post of PM of Canada at a time when the world is in crisis mode.
    I am the father of three children, all in their thirties. Two have endured serious congenital hearing challenges. Both are fluent in three languages. One older sibling can function in five languages. Regrettably, today there is no viable defence for Dion’s linguistic arrogance, nor for his intransigence on the matter of bilingualism.

  31. Nadine says

    This discussion is actually a bit ridiculous. I do not vote on who gives the best interviews. I vote based on who has sound policies. Whether or not Stephane Dion was able to vocalize these policies during an individual interview is irrelevant if he has vocalized his policies before and let voters know how he believes is best to run the economy. Yes he should be able to answer questions about how he thinks the economy should be run. Yet if he needs clarification or gets caught up in his words does not matter to me. The liberals do have a plan for what to do in the future and what should have been done in the past. I am not a liberal voter, but economic theory is one of the major differences between the parties. I am not saying liberal ideology would have prevented Canada’s problems. What I am saying is that the ideology does exist.
    And people should attempt to understand free trade and the free market and how it effects our country and other countries around the world. This is probably the least understood and most important issue in the world.

  32. David says

    The question is worse than poorly worded. It’s nonsensical.

    It’s evident to anyone who does speak clear English that Mr. Dion understands the English language much better than does the CTV interviewer.

    Send the reporter back to journalism school. As for CTV trying to spin this, well, it’s shameful they believe there are many Canadians stupid enough to not realize it’s their interviewer at fault here.

  33. Anonymous says

    CTV News and its current master-at-arms Robert Hurst should be ashamed of betraying a basic trust. CTV and Hurst have lived up to most Canadians expectations of yellow-tabloid journalism where fundemental ethics, honesty and trusts are breached with disregard to the individual and the viewer.

  34. Anonymous says

    As a candidate for Prime Minister at the time of the interview, Dion should have understood the question. If he can’t understand a simple english question, how can he understand questions from Canadians on a day to day basis as Prime Minister. A Prime Minister should be able to comprehend english sentences phrased different ways. Not everyone would ask questions the same way. I wouldn’t ask a question the same way you would ask a question. Steve asks the questions people want to know the answer to and Canadians like Steve. Maybe Steve should have run for Prime Minister. He understood the question as did other people.

  35. Anonymous says

    Per a previous comment, maybe instead of sending the reporter back to journalism school, maybe someone should send Dion back to english school…the question was very clear. A big deal made about nothing as usual…People have nothing better to do than pick apart other people. Get over it! He didn’t understand the question…It’s done and over with.

  36. Anonymous says

    The facts are per CTV management. They were the ones who decided to show the question being asked. They did not edit it because they felt it was important people see this guy who was running for Prime Minister unable to answer a simple question. They felt the question was fair. Steve WAS NOT the one who made the final decision. It was CTV management. Get your facts straight before posting rude comments about people.