Louise Harel: the English interviews

When Vision Montreal leader Louise Harel refused last month to participate in a CTV-organized English debate, the decision was widely criticized by anglophone leaders as the PQ séparatiss turning her back on the English-speaking community.

Harel made excuses for her troubles in English, saying she speaks English with her inlaws and she just gets nervous when she’s in front of a camera (or microphone) and worries about making political mistakes with her less-than-perfect language. It’s understandable (she really had nothing to win and a lot to lose by participating in an English debate), but she might have defused the situation a bit better if she just admitted “yeah, I suck at English, but I’m working on it, and in the meantime I’d rather not torture the electorate with my feeble attempts” – at least that would have showed she has a sense of humour.

Besides, she wouldn’t be the first Montreal mayor who couldn’t perform in a Shakespeare play, nor would she be the first sovereignist to run the city’s executive committee.

But instead, partly because of the way her party handled the situation and partly because of media reaction to it, she’s left the anglophone community with the impression that she doesn’t give a rat’s ass about them and she can easily get elected without their support. And so her support among anglophones was mired in the single digits in opinion polls.

Still, she reached out. She could have refused questions in English during news conferences, but she took them. She could have limited her longer interviews in English, but she’s made four of them with local English electronic media, by my count.

The first was a disastrous interview with Anne Lagacé-Dowson on CJAD. Disastrous not in that she said anything politically damaging (besides admitting that she’s a sovereignist), but because it allowed the news media to see how she performed in English and understand just how awful her command of the language is. Others (like me) poked fun at her, concentrating on her many stumbles during the interview rather than the points she made. She had to do it, and she had to get it out of her system. Fortunately she did it early. (I asked CJAD a while ago for permission to post the full audio of the interview, but never heard back. Unfortunately it’s not available online.)

In the past two weeks, Harel has had two sit-down interviews with English television stations and one interview with English radio.

Louise Harel with Jamie Orchard on CKMI's Focus Montreal on Oct. 22

Louise Harel with Jamie Orchard on CKMI's Focus Montreal during the week of Oct. 22

Jamie Orchard was the first, getting Harel into a room at Global’s CKMI Montreal (incidentally, on the only non-fake set at the station), and grilling her on her plan to recentralize power in city hall and her views on negotiations with blue collar workers.

Louise Harel with Todd van der Heyden on Wednesday

Louise Harel with Todd van der Heyden on Wednesday

On Wednesday, CFCF’s Todd van der Heyden sat down with Harel for over 11 minutes during the noon newscast, in which he asked all the anglo questions, and got Harel to admit that she doesn’t consider the English colonialists.

Nancy Wood, CBC Daybreak

Nancy Wood, CBC Daybreak

Finally, on Friday morning, Harel was in the studios of CBC Montreal for a radio interview with Daybreak’s Nancy Wood (link goes to podcast MP3 which contains the full interview). Wood asked her about her sagging poll numbers and whether she’s sure everyone working for her party is on the up-and-up. Other than Harel not knowing what “deceived” means (you’d think of all words, that would be one she’d get to know pretty well recently), it went okay.

Maybe it’s because we all know about Harel’s English already, or because the news is too busy covering corruption and horse-race issues, but these other English interviews got very little notice.

Despite legitimate criticisms from the anglophone community, we should at least give her credit for trying. And it’s nice to see that her English is getting at least a little bit better.

14 thoughts on “Louise Harel: the English interviews

  1. Olivier

    I’ll repeat what I said when you first poked fun at here after the Lagacé-Dawson interview: she had nothing to loose doing it. And even tough she has nothing to show for her efforts right now (Bergeron is the one hitting on every side of the electorate), if she ends up mayoress, she’s already established her willingness to reach out.

    At the end of the day, this isn’t provincial or federal politics: she can’t afford not to do this, even if she comes up empty-handed at first. She’s crafty enough to understand that.

    Now, the election being the crapshoot it is, we’ll see. But Michel David had a point in this morning’s Devoir: Bergeron is the only of the three candidates commanding a certain base in the Anglo, Allo and Franco electorates.

  2. dan

    This whole thing has been a huge distraction. I think having a mayor who doesn’t speak the Queen’s English is an asset. It makes Montreal seem a more distinct and truly international city.

    /Still voting for Bergeron.

  3. Gilles

    I’m not sure if anyone picked up on this – but the word Louise Harel used –
    ‘deceived’- to describe her relations with Benoit Labonte – was used in at least 2 of 3 interviews.

    In the CBC interview with Nancy Wood; Harel explains that the use of this word was mistakenly used instead of the word ‘disappointed’.

    Hmmmm now let me calculate this. Louise Harel goes on Montreal English network television (no doubt coached or at least practiced on how to answer these questions in English) and specifically on how to best answer a question in English on the Benoit Labonte affair. Why wouldnt anyone coach her on the correct translation for the word dissapointed….???? Sounds to me like the potential mayor to be may be ‘deceiving’ the viewer in having mistakenly used the word ‘deceived’. (-;

    Why does this not surprise me (coming from Louise Harel)? Now I am feeling very deceived… (translate that any way you want to)

    1. Olivier

      Quite frankly Gilles, I’m perfectly inclined to believe her on that point.

      I mean: what is the incentive of saying that she was deceived when she just spent the last two weeks saying “Labonté m’a déçue” in french?? She *knows* saying one thing in french and something else in english is a huge no-no. She *knows* if she does so it will be instantly picked up and held against her. Why in the name of jeebus would she do something like that?

      Seriously, she spent the last two months saying she freezes when she speaks english because she is afraid of making political mistakes. Saying deceived when she spent the last two weeks saying “disapointed” in french is such a mistake. Why would she do it *on purpose*?

      1. Karine

        Funny I’ve just read a passage in a Kathy Reichs book, about how one’s initial language seeps into the second language, especially when you don’t have a perfect grasp of it, something I’m very familiar with especially in my written English. Sounds to me that Mrs Harel was using the word “deceived” with the same meaning as “déçu” ie disappointed. Maybe her handlers didn’t catch it.

        As for me I’ve cast my votes. My complaints about the process: no wheelchair access to the voting room, try negotiating stairs with a stroller. Luckily my niece isn’t heavy. My other: I was handed a whole whack of ballots on which each candidate was listed but not for what unless I looked at the back of each. Sorting out the city and burrough mayor candidates were easy. The counsellors? Not so much.

        1. Patrice

          just too be precise :) she used “deceived” because she probably meant “décevant” like in “disappointing”.
          the fact that she’s not bilingual wouldn’t be a problem if she stays in Montreal. But when it’s time to travel and represent the City of Montreal, it’s mandatory.

          sorry for my average english, i’m french :)

  4. cheese

    I don’t think that the language thing is so important for Harel, as long as she can get by in English she can perform her duties. But since English is the current lingua franca it may mean that Montreal will be further hindered internationally. The real issue is that her party has no “vision”, no plan, nothing compelling, just some rehashed dreams from a bygone era.

    Also she personally botched the municipal mergers, leaving Montreal in a tangled bureaucratic mess. I’m surprised she was even able to show her face and run for any office again, let alone mayor. The fact that separatists and the “pur laine” have championed her precisely for her lack of language skills is just depressing. Let’s have some intelligent debate, some strong leadership in either language.

    Regardless of your views though, get out and vote today!

    1. Jean Naimard

      There is no shame in ethnic voting. Are sheep ashamed of their condition? Certainly not. So why should the english be ashamed of voting for the same ones, no matter if they are rich or poor???

  5. Joe Clark

    You don’t actually need their permission to post the interview in this context, as it is covered under review, commentary, and news-reporting provisions of fair dealing. Yes, you can post the whole thing.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Those provisions would allow me to quote from it, or use excerpts, not republish the whole thing. And even if it could be interpreted as being legal, I won’t do it without permission.


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