Baby’s First Liberal Convention

Last night Carrie and I watched our first Canadian political convention and . . . is was boring and disappointing. Yes, I know we should have known better from years of American political conventions but somehow I thought it would be different here, that issues and positions would be discussed. Instead, it was a serial pep rally complete with powerpoint-inspired videos and calculated cheers. At least in my high school pep rallies we could make fun of the old white guy teachers who appeared to like the danceline segments a little too much.

While the performances were calculated and the speeches were largely devoid of meaningful policy content, it did give me cause to reflect on a few things.

1. Figuratively speaking, Canadian politicians are considerably less slick than their American counterparts. And it’s something that is clearly valued in some quarters. I thought Bob Rae’s whole “without a net” speech was awkward to the point of being uncomfortable to watch (well, at least it wasn’t boring) but it got higher marks from the commentators than Ignatieff’s more polished and practiced speech.

2. Literally speaking, Canadian politicians are less slick than their American counterparts. Gerard Kennedy appeared to be missing a tooth and neither of the major American political parties would have allowed their frontrunner candidate onstage at their national conventions with hair in the condition of Michael Ignatieff’s:

He’s got stray hairs everywhere. Again, nobody commented upon it or seemed to care. If that was a democrat or republican frontrunner some commentator would say that it means something. So while I’m tempted to reach some conclusion about there being less superficiality here but then, I’d have to explain or defend the vacuousness of the speeches and the pep-rally behavior. And I’m not ready to do that.

3. I think CBC’s dubbing practice is a terrible idea and I found it really jarring. I’m sure there’s some history behind this I don’t know, but if one of the politico-linguistic goals of Canada is bilingualism, then its public institutions should not “protect” people from either language. Use subtitles instead of dubbing (after all, the networks have the scripts of the speeches in advance) and let people actually hear the French. Television is an audiovisual medium and they should take advantage of that fact. A good deal of the French spoken from the podium didn’t even really need translation — especially when candidates were simply repeating themselves in French. It’s the same principle as food labelling here: both language appear, which sort of works like flash cards. As it was, the candidates are making (well in Stephane Dion’s case, anyway) a serious effort to be understood in both language because Canadian politics demands that kind of fluency (or at least it does when in Montreal) and here’s the public broadcaster undoing it.

4. The whole handshaking thing is really nuts. Maybe today will be more exciting.