Tag Archives: Louise Harel

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.

Montreal media endorsement tally

Sure, you could go to the party websites, read their platforms, call up your local candidates and decide for yourself who you’re going to vote for. But why do that when the media is ready to just tell you how to mark your X?

Even in this election campaign, where none of the candidates for mayor has prompted Barack-Obama-like enthusiasm, most seem content with endorsing a candidate anyway, and each of the big three is getting a piece of the pie.

In fact, not even do major media outlets not agree on whom to vote for, they can’t even form consensuses within their own newsrooms. Both La Presse and The Gazette have columnists making endorsements for mayor that differ from the main editorial line.

With the candidates neck and neck and neck a day before the election, and no clue how even strategic voting would work, I’m afraid you’re all on your own here.

Still, here’s how the endorsements break down:

For mayor

Gérald Tremblay

Gérald Tremblay, Union Montreal

  • The Gazette: “The least distressing candidate in an unprepossessing field. … Richard Bergeron is clearly not ready to govern. … Harel’s claim to be a unifier is preposterous.”
  • CTV (Executive Producer Barry Wilson): “At this point, it seems not be a case of who is the best, but who is not the worst choice.”
  • The Suburban: “Montreal’s greater good will be served by a mayor who can communicate in English, the lingua franca, to the outside world … by a mayor who does not make war on cars and does not want to make a pedestrian promenade of our busiest commercial artery.”

Louise Harel

Louise Harel, Vision Montreal

  • Le Devoir (Bernard Descôteaux): “Guérir Montréal du cancer de la corruption est un préalable à toute chose. …  L’expérience est ici l’élément déterminant, et entre Louise Harel et Richard Bergeron, il faut donc choisir la première. … Elle possède le sens politique qui lui permettra de créer les nécessaires consensus au sein du prochain conseil municipal.”
  • L’Aut’journal: “L’administration Tremblay a complètement perdu la maîtrise de ses projets au profit de l’entreprise privée. Le candidat Richard Bergeron présente un excellent programme municipal … Cependant, il faut reconnaître qu’il n’a pas réussi au cours des quatre dernières années à s’entourer d’une équipe aguerrie. … Il est nécessaire de restructurer la fonction publique municipale et revoir la répartition des pouvoirs entre la ville-centre et les arrondissements. Pour y arriver, il faudra une grande dextérité politique et seule Louise Harel a l’expérience, le savoir-faire et les années de service pour y arriver.”
  • Lysiane Gagnon, La Presse: “Je crois que Mme Harel fera tout pour réussir la fin d’une carrière gâchée par une fusion mal faite qui s’est terminée par le fiasco des défusions. Et elle est capable de beaucoup. … La souveraineté? De toute façon, le dossier est presque clos. Son anglais boiteux? Elle apprendra. Ses tentations bureaucratiques de péquiste de gauche? La réalité économique de Montréal, qui repose sur l’entreprise privée, la rattrapera vite.”

Richard Bergeron

Richard Bergeron, Projet Montréal

  • Henry Aubin, The Gazette: “There are two approaches for reaching that judgment. One approach – the more common one – is to look at each candidate’s personal record and qualities. It’s this approach that has led to widespread despair. … The other approach for assessing candidates is through the issues. … Bergeron, then, clearly comes out ahead on all matters except sovereignty.”
  • Pierre Foglia, La Presse (I think): “Je souhaite la très improbable victoire de M. Bergeron, même si on me dit que c’est un tata fini et l’homme d’une idée fixe avec lequel cela risquerait d’aller encore plus mal qu’aujourd’hui à la mairie.”
  • Non-media endorsements: John Gomery, Charles Taylor, Québec solidaire, Chris Karidogiannis and Jimmy Zoubris

None of the above

  • La Presse (chief editorialist André Pratte): “Aucun parti, aucun chef n’a donné l’impression de pouvoir fournir à Montréal le leadership dont elle a désespérément besoin. … Lors des élections municipales de 2001 et de 2005, La Presse a accordé son appui à Gérald Tremblay. Depuis, le maire s’est dévoué à sa ville. … Louise Harel n’a pas su offrir une vision claire pour l’avenir de la métropole. … L’aptitude de Mme Harel à manier le balai est devenue beaucoup plus incertaine à la suite des révélations faites au sujet du comportement de Benoit Labonté, son bras droit jusqu’à il y a quelques jours. … Est-il nécessaire que le maire de Montréal parle anglais? Non… mais presque. … À nos yeux, Louise Harel ne satisfait pas aux exigences du poste. … Certains volets de la personnalité de M. Bergeron sont trop inquiétants pour qu’on lui confie la mairie.”

For council

The Gazette did not endorse any specific candidates for city council, but did suggest looking at individual candidates instead of party names, and encouraged people to look at independent candidates and “borough parties”

La Presse’s André Pratte listed several names from each party in his editorial, which makes up most of the list below.

Union Montreal

  • Alan DeSousa (La Presse)
  • Michel Labrecque (La Presse)
  • André Lavallée (La Presse)

Vision Montreal

  • Élaine Ayotte (La Presse)
  • Harry Delva (La Presse)
  • Pierre Lampron (La Presse)
  • Réal Ménard (La Presse)
  • David Hanna (Jeremy Searle, West End Times)

Projet Montréal

  • Étienne Coutu (La Presse)
  • Carole Dupuis (La Presse)
  • Josée Duplessis (La Presse)
  • Alex Norris (Mike Boone, The Gazette)


Alex Norris (a former journalist) also got the endorsement of Thomas Mulcair.

Did I miss any? Be sure to let me know before tomorrow.

Fagstein’s endorsement

Of course, you’re all wondering who I’m endorsing in this election. As if the answer isn’t obvious already, I’ll give the official word in this video:


Don’t forget to vote.

Now it gets interesting

From Friday's La Presse

From Friday's La Presse

The first opinion polling after the Labonté scandal shows the three parties really neck and neck (and neck). Though Harel comes out on top, the real story is Richard Bergeron, whose party is living the wet dream of being a contender.

According to the poll, the number of undecideds has plummeted from 30% to 10%.

Election day is Sunday, and (as a journalist who will spend the night in the newsroom) it’s gonna be fun.

Dear “Friends of Louise Harel”

Friends of Louise Harel

Friends of Louise Harel

Good for you with the website rallying anglos to the defence of Louise Harel. Providing a new voice in the election campaign is always welcome. And you’re getting the francophone media to use anglo headlines, which is always a plus.

Here’s the thing: Maybe people would believe you more about the surge of Montrealers from ethnic communities who have come out in support of her if the pictures on your website weren’t stock photos from a U.K.-based stock photo service.

These aren’t Montrealers, nor are they friends of Louise Harel, so why are there pictures of them on your website? Does Harel not have enough real friends that you’ve had to import pictures of fake ones?

UPDATE (Oct. 5): And I see you’re also plagiarizing blog posts. (Original, FOLH version)

Louise … umm …. uhh … umm … how you say … Harel

It was a train wreck, but we all knew it would be.

A few days after declining to participate in an English-language debate hosted by CTV, Louise Harel willingly subjected herself to a one-hour interview on CJAD on Saturday afternoon.

CJAD hasn’t posted audio of it online, but I recorded it and compiled the best of its unquotable moments. You can listen to it here: Louise Harel on CJAD (edited, MP3)

Her English wasn’t just bad, it was atrocious. During the 30 minutes of interview, I counted a total of 19 times that host Anne Lagacé-Dowson suggested words that Harel was struggling to find. (In one case, it was the word “expensive”.) At one point, Harel gave up entirely and gave an answer in French for the host to translate.

Perhaps Harel and her handlers never listened to the station, but I can think of no worse platform for a unilingual francophone ex-PQ minister and municipal merger advocate than the last great bastion of angryphonism.

It’s noteworthy that Harel chose to come on the Saturday afternoon show of Lagacé-Dowson, the former CBC radio host who left the Corp to unsuccessfully bid for a seat in the House of Commons for the NDP. (She’s now the permanent host 1-4pm on Saturdays.) Normally, high-profile guests sit with Tommy Schnurmacher on weekday mornings or Ric Peterson during the drive-home hours.

Stories about Harel’s genuine but failed attempt to reach out to anglos appear in The Gazette and on CJAD’s website. CTV’s cameras were also in the studio. French media seems to have ignored the gesture entirely. The Gazette has some fun at Harel’s expense, but even that is downright laudatory compared to some of the comments made by CJAD listeners who called in. One said she “exemplified hatred for the English-speaking community” and was “trying to destroy our community,” while another used the word “racist” in describing PQ language policy. No wonder Harel said she was “afraid to speak in English” for fear of committing a major political faux pas and being branded something worse than a green-skinned witch.

All three stories about the discussion also mention the fact that she was 25 minutes late to the interview. (Her explanation was that she was giving another interview to a community radio station and couldn’t get to the studio on time.) It was 1:21pm by my watch when she got in the studio, and she was at the microphone a minute later. She missed about 11 minutes of actual talk time, during which Lagacé-Dowson filled otherwise dead air with a biography of the Vision Montreal leader and took a couple of calls. Cutting out the ads, traffic and news breaks, Lagacé-Dowson and Harel talked for 30 minutes after she finally arrived.

Why bother?

I’m not quite sure why Harel decided to be interviewed on CJAD. Perhaps it was to prove a point that she doesn’t hate anglophones. Perhaps it was just to get it over with. Or perhaps she lost a bet.

But listening to the interview, it becomes clear why Harel chose not to participate in an anglo television debate. She has literally nothing to gain from such an embarrassment. Her approval among anglophones according to the latest La Presse poll is an astonishingly low 6%, way below Gérald Tremblay and Richard Bergeron. I think George W. Bush has better support from anglo Montrealers. Stumbling through severe language difficulties to give un-nuanced explanations of why she supports policies that anglophones are most opposed to is an exercise in futility. “For Harel to try to debate in a language she doesn’t really speak would have been an excruciating waste of time for both her and any listener who isn’t a masochist,” says Gazette columnist Don Macpherson.

CTV offered simultaneous translation, which would have given us something similar to what we had in the 1997 French leaders’ debate where Preston Manning spoke in English to a French audience. That might have been easier for everyone involved, but it’s easier still to simply write off a segment of the population you have no chance of winning anyway. The BQ and PQ don’t campaign for anglo votes, so why should Harel?

Irrelevant? I think not

I don’t think that mastery of the English language should be a requirement for being mayor of Montreal. The city has had mayors in the past whose English skills have been sorely lacking, and so far no civil wars have erupted. Richard Bergeron’s English isn’t all that much better.

But there’s this talking point circulating among Harel supporters (and militant sovereignists) that the ability to speak English is completely irrelevant to the job of mayor.

Sorry, but it’s not. No matter what the law or the city’s constitution says, Montreal is a bilingual city. The national anthem at Canadiens games is sung in two languages, we pay for our shish taouk with bilingual money, and panhandlers start off their begging with “anglais/français?”

Harel herself is the first to admit that this lack of skill is a strike against her. The job of mayor isn’t simply about creating legislation and voting in city hall meetings, it’s about being a leader, about representing Montreal on the national and international stage, and (for better or for worse) about giving speeches, cutting ribbons and writing those letters you see on Page 2 of municipal newsletters and festival programs. And like it or not, these things require the use of English.

This same irrelevance argument is made about Harel’s views on Quebec sovereignty. Even asking the question is considered “totally out of line.” Since when is someone’s political views irrelevant to politics? Sure, Montreal’s mayor doesn’t have the power to make a unilateral declaration of independence, but identity politics have defined political discourse here for decades, and there are plenty of related issues (language, for example) that do have an impact at the municipal level. Playing this not-my-jurisdiction game seems ludicrous to me. If Stephen Harper were asked a question about his views on health care or education during a campaign, would those too be considered “totally out of line” because those things are provincial jurisdiction? Of course not.

No platform

I get the point: We know she’s a sovereignist, we know she can’t speak English very well, and we know she brought in those forced municipal mergers (which, despite the stereotype, didn’t just piss off anglophones in Montreal). We should be debating the “issues” instead. Looking forward, you know.

But we can’t. Because over a week into the campaign, Vision Montreal hasn’t released its platform yet. Neither has Tremblay’s Union Montreal, although one can extrapolate their policies from the past eight years of governance.

And because Vision Montreal is a shell of a party that really has nothing to define itself by other than its revolving-door leadership post, we have to wait until a platfom is released to debate the issues. (Though apparently Harel and Trembaly don’t – they already had a debate, with Jean-Luc Mongrain on LCN, before releasing any platforms.)

If Harel wants to move on and keep the momentum she’s built up, and maybe even attract a few anglo votes on the issues that really matter, that platform needs to be released soon. And it better have some good ideas.

Boulos defends Harel

Karim Boulos, the anglo at Vision Montreal, wants us to know Louise Harel is not to be feared by our people. As a Liberal and federalist, even he can find a way to support her, because she believes in the same things Benoît Labonté believes in: centralization and improving services and bring more environmentally friendly and cookies and puppies and happy children and such.

He promises to highlight electoral platforms “as soon as the parties render them public”.

I’m waiting too.

Vision Montreal: [Insert leader here]

Better pull these ads quick

Better pull these ads quick. There's a minor update to them.

Well, it’s official. Benoît Labonté is stepping aside as leader of Vision Montreal so that former PQ minister Louise Harel can run in his place for mayor of Montreal.

I must say I’m surprised by this move. Not only does Labonté have a lot of ambition, but he’s made his campaign for mayor all about him. The Vision Montreal website still links to his blog, which has his face plastered all over it and is now useless as a campaign website (which makes his assertion that his cause “isn’t personal” absurd to the point of late-night comedy). They’ll replace it by one from Louise Harel (who will hopefully hire Labonté’s web designers instead of sticking with her current blog).

I could criticize Harel on many points. She was the person who gave us the whole megacity disaster (fortunately for her, residents of Hampstead and Beaconsfield don’t vote for Montreal’s mayor), and she wants us to just forget all that, saying “there’s no question of rekindling the debate.” She’s an evil sovereignist who spent most of her political career in Quebec City and can barely string three words together in English. And she shares Labonté’s habit of using lots of words that say nothing, not to mention his lack of humility.

But what gets me most is how matter-of-fact this all is. Five months before an election that Labonté has been preparing for more than a year, they have a meeting and just replace the leader.

The ease by which this happened reflects something I wrote about with Labonté in April: He and his party have no platform.

You can see it in Harel’s press release, just like in Vision Montreal’s “Manifesto”. There’s lots of talk of “true political and administrative leadership and attention to priorities,” but no discussion of what those priorities actually are. The only thing that ties Labonté, Harel and Vision Montreal together seems to be the only point of the platform so far: A dislike of Gérald Tremblay.

Actually, to be fair, there’s one other platform point hidden among the empty calories of text about “visionary leadership” and “bold vision”: a desire for a radical change to the borough system and more centralized power at City Hall. It’s something Labonté has supported and something Harel instituted with municipal mergers (though her bill created the mess in the first place).

But that still leaves a lot of blank that can be filled in by almost anything (provided it can be sold as bold and audacious) before November. They could fill it with Projet Montréal’s trams and greenery if they go through with a merger, as Harel hinted at. But I’d like to think that Richard Bergeron is smart enough not to tie his reputation to this sinking ship.

In the end, this probably says more about Vision Montreal and our city’s politics than it does any individual player. The parties can’t be pigeonholed like they can on the provincial and federal levels (Conservatives/ADQ xenophobic conservatives who want to dismantle the government piece by piece, NDP/Québec solidaire crazy leftists who want to pour even more tax money into inefficient black holes, BQ/PQ left-wing separatists who talk radical to get elected and then soften up when they get into power, Greens the environment nuts, and the Liberals the centre-left lesser of many evils who have the experience to run government and the experience to exploit their offices). We don’t really know what separates Union Montreal and Vision Montreal other than who’s leading them.

Like with Labonté, I’m willing to give Harel the benefit of the doubt, and look forward to reading her platform if eventually it comes out.

But right now it’s hard not to see the party of Pierre Bourque as a blank cheque to be cashed in by naive, ambitious politicians who want to parachute in and carpetbag their way into power based solely on their personal, vastly overestimated popularity combined with a lot of empty words from rejected Obama speechwriters.

UPDATE: Le Devoir agrees with me, asking why the left-wing Harel is uniting with the pro-business Labonté.