Thursday, March 24, 2005

Introducing ... the Ken Epp Award! (for Rhetorical Silliness)

Ken Epp is the Conservative MP for Edmonton--Sherwood Park. Yesterday in Parliament he made a statement that ... well, it's not exactly malicious, but it is somewhat symptomatic of a disease that affects politicians in general, some more than others.

It's pretty much a given that 87 percent of all politicians' speech has no real meaning. Phrases like "bold new direction" or "unprecedented in our history" or "the people of Canada are united in this" have been robbed of their impact, through rhetorical inflation and overuse. Now couple that with an outlook of deliberately blinkered optimism, and you'll get something like this (fisked for your viewing pleasure):

Mr. Speaker, six minutes ago it was exactly 100,000 hours since I was first elected as a member of Parliament. What are my thoughts after 4,167 days?

For the record, Mr. Epp was elected to Parliament in 1993, when the first Chrétien government came to power, so he's held the seat for around 12 years. Which presumably means he should know better: stating his time in office in terms of hours is a bad idea. It gives the impression that Mr. Epp spends his time counting minutes -- something that is only done when the counter (usually a prisoner, a pupil in detention, or a white-collar waiting for the weekend on a Friday)wants to leave. Is being an MP that bad?

It has been an extraordinary privilege to serve the people of Elk Island, and now Edmonton—Sherwood Park. It has been exciting to progress from the Reform Party, to the Canadian Alliance and now to the new exciting Conservative Party of Canada.

No, I promise you; I don't think he's being ironic here. Still, it does seem somewhat oxymoronic to see "exciting" and "Conservative" paired together like that.

While this corrupt, tired Liberal government is missing the mark with respect to leadership of this wonderful country, I and my party are ready to govern with vision and insight. We are ready to offer Canadians a responsible, trustworthy government, an end to mismanagement, a new respect-based relationship with our American neighbours, a justice system that does a better job of protecting law-abiding citizens, effective democracy and much more. I can hardly wait until the electorate gives us the green light at the next election.

Cheerleading. Backbench MPs do that a lot. The thing is, the above paragraph could have been said at any point during this parliamentary term (yes, there's the excuse of the Conservative convention this past weekend). It could have been said last year, or in the term before the last election, or even after the first four years of the Chrétien administration. That's why it's effectively meaningless.

I anticipate with great excitement what the next six million minutes will bring.

That goes back to his "100,000 hours" statement. One gets the impression that Mr. Epp wants to warm his backbench seat for another 12 years, at which point he'd be 78 years old. (This assumes that he continues to win all elections held in that period.)

For a contrast, check out Liberal backbench MP Susan Kadis' statement that same day, also on the Tories. Note that she makes it topical by relating it to the policy convention. There's a bit of cheerleading in the end, of course, but on the whole this is more effective as rhetoric than Mr. Epp's oration.

I'm not trying to be mean-spirited. It's just that Mr. Epp's statement is such a stunning example of rhetorical silliness that it merits naming an award after him. The purpose of this award would be to highlight examples of silly or inane speeches by MPs, with the aim of improving their speechmaking abilities.

Here' are the eligibility requirements:

1. The nominee must be a Canadian elected official. Officials from provincial, territorial and municipal jurisdictions are eligible.

2. The nominated statement or oration must appear on the Web in an official capacity. This includes online Hansard plus speeches from the nominee's official website. A link must be provided.

3. The statement must show a use of rhetoric that strikes people as being silly or inane, with an explanation as to why. Because rhetoric is meant to be said out loud, errors in transcription (i.e. spelling) don't count. (However, if the error results in a completely different meaning than was actually said, it qualifies for the Speech, Shoots and Leaves Award.)
Also, partisan reasoning won't be considered a good explanation.

That's pretty much it. An eventual winner will be announced at the end of the year. Hopefully, there won't be too many nominees, but with this lot, you never know ...