Dear Craig Oliver,
In a Web column the other day, you wrote the following:
However, let's accept Mr. Dion at his word -- that the problem was a difficulty he has with comprehension as a result of some hearing issue. It is a painful thing to say but is he then fit for the highest office in the land if he cannot follow a detailed conversation in English in which great decisions may have to be made?I'm not sure if anyone has answered your question yet Craig, but the answer is yes, he absolutely is fit for the highest office in the land, even if his English as a second language skills are less than perfect, and even if he has “some hearing issue” as you so sensitively put it.
Just what, Mr. Oliver, are you suggesting could occur if someone with less than perfect English skills, or an aversion to really really bad grammar, becomes Prime Minister? Are you worried that he might mistake “The Russians are invited” for “The Russians are invaded” and he’ll accidentally nuke Moscow or something? Because if that’s the case, you’ll be relieved to know Canada doesn’t posses nuclear weapons. Even if we did have nukes though, here’s how that one would play out:
Aide: Prime Minister Dion, the Russians are invited to Canada.
PM: The Russians are invading Canada? Zut alors! Mon dieux! Are you serious?
Aide: Invading? No, no sir. They’re invited. You know, for a state dinner.
PM: Oh, ok, phew. That’s great. Make sure you get that Alberta vodka I like.
See, no biggie.
Or are you worried that he’ll be presiding over a cabinet meeting and we’ll accidentally sell Vancouver Island to the Americans or invade Iraq because of some unfortunate language issue? Really Craig, exactly how could less than perfect English impact “great decisions” he would have to make as Prime Minister? I assure you, while I too have some grammar issues now and again, my English is pretty dammed good and I have no idea what the heck you’re talking about.
What I’m getting from your column is that unless you have pitch-perfect English (Oxford accent optional, I trust?) you can’t hope to aspire to the highest office in our land (next to the GG). This would, by default, seem to disqualify anyone for whom English is not their first language. Sorry Quebec, and every multi-cultural community across the land. I suppose we just got lucky with Jean Chretien, Pierre Trudeau, Louis St. Laurent. I’ll give you Wilfrid Laurier, total disaster that guy. How we managed to get the Naval Bill through given his trouble with subordinate clauses, I have no idea.
Maybe you’re right though, Mr. Oliver. Perhaps Canadians are unwilling to accept a man that is honest, sincere, humble and smart as the leader of their country if he has trouble with different tenses in his second language. I hope not though, because I don’t like the sound of that kind of Canada.
Perhaps we’ve had different life experiences. I live in Scarborough, a place where minorities are actually the majority. And I actually I think you’re selling Canada short, because your Canada doesn’t seem to be the Canada that I know. The Canada I know is a nation that takes pride in its multicultural dynamic, that welcomes immigrants from around the world, many of them from non-English speaking countries, and that welcomes everyone to make a contribution to public life. Is it really fair to tell a Canadian whose first language is Greek, or Spanish, or Chinese or Hindi, that sure, you can enter public life, but we’ll only let you rise so far?
Perhaps that wasn’t the message you were trying to get across with your column, Mr. Oliver. If that’s the case, I’d be perfectly willing to let you try to write it again. I promise not to hold the first one against you.
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