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.