It seems our international trade minister, Jim Peterson, made quite the faux pas in the House yesterday, trying to explain the government position on softwood lumber to Stephen Harper:
Hon. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, CPC): I am trying to discern the government's position on the softwood lumber dispute. Up until today, its position was that there would be no negotiations. I listened to the minister's answers to the Bloc. He said he was seeking a good deal for Canada, a negotiated settlement. Which is it? No negotiations or a negotiated settlement?
Hon. Jim Peterson (Minister of International Trade, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I will be very simple so the minister understands, so the member understands—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
If I may break in here: whenever you see the phrase "Oh, oh!" it usually means a noise that's a little embarrassing to identify. In this case, I'd say it was laughter.
The Speaker: Order, please. I am sure the minister appreciates all the applause his answer has caused so far, but we have to be able to hear the answer. The minister will now want to resume with some order in the House.
Hon. Jim Peterson: Mr. Speaker, I really slipped on that one.
Yes, and it's a verrrrry interesting slip. With three subconscious interpretations:
1) By "minister," Mr. Peterson could have been referring to himself. This marks him as one of those people who have to formulate their thoughts by saying them out loud. Which means he hasn't really given this issue as much thought as he should have, at least in preparation for Question Period.
2) Mr. Peterson could have been subconsciously referring to another minister, possibly foreign affairs minister Pierre Pettigrew. Given Mr. Pettigrew's Parisian penchants, this would not be totally surprising that Mr. Peterson would feel obliged to keep him in the loop.
3) Mr. Peterson could have been addressing Stephen Harper as a minister. This one is a potential chink in the armor, because it means there's a subconscious acknowledgement among senior Liberals that, if they're not careful, Harper and the Tories could form the next government.
Mr. Harper, incidentally, seemed to prefer the first interpretation. I wonder if he's given serious thought about the third.