It’s only after what Legault and some of his ministers say is reported that they realize what they didn’t mean.
“Only a fool learns from his own mistakes,” said 19th-century Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck. “The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”
If so, then the premier of Quebec is not a fool. Because François Legault keeps repeating a mistake he made in last year’s election campaign.
That is, he keeps getting caught making up stuff. Like a four-year-old who’s in trouble, or the president of the United States.
In the latest example (as of this writing), Legault was asked after the second anniversary of the Quebec City mosque killings whether this province should have an official day to fight Islamophobia.
No, he answered, because there is no Islamophobia here. (Let’s pause briefly to consider the paradox that the only jurisdiction in North America where there was no Islamophobia is also the only one to elect a government on a promise to legislate against the hijab.)
A day later, after he was reminded of the evidence that he was wrong, his office issued a “clarification” that looked more like a contradiction: When he said there was no Islamophobia in Quebec, what he meant is that there was. Only there wasn’t enough to do anything about it (except, perhaps, to exploit it politically with his anti-hijab bill).
Obviously, the Chassé rule does not apply to the premier, because if it did, he would fire himself.
Only a month ago, Legault sacked MarieChantal Chassé after less than three months as his environment minister, ending the gender parity in his cabinet that he had promised, for her inability to skate away gracefully from trouble in media scrums.
In the year-end review of the satirical Radio-Canada television program Infoman, Legault had spoken admiringly of the ability of his immigration minister, Simon Jolin-Barrette, to “talk for 10 minutes without making news, without saying anything.”
The premier was only half-joking, as he showed eight days later by firing Chassé.
Legault said on Infoman that he was having Jolin-Barrette “give lessons to the others” in his government. But most of Legault’s ministers are new to the National Assembly, and new MNAs tend to imitate the worst traits of their party leader.
Sure enough, in less than a week after Legault’s Islamophobia moonwalk, two of his politically inexperienced ministers had to “clarify” remarks they had made.
One is the minister for the status of women, Isabelle Charest. A day after she called the hijab (there it is again) a symbol of female oppression, Charest said she stood by her statement, but allowed that some women choose to wear the head scarf.
So, women who wear the hijab are oppressed, except when they aren’t.
But political inexperience is no excuse for what appears to be outright lying. And the minister of agriculture, André Lamontagne, tested the ability of journalists to come up with different polite euphemisms for that word.
First, Lamontagne boasted that he had personally fired a whistleblower in his department, then, he denied having done so.
Over five days, he offered what exhausted Radio-Canada fact checkers counted as no fewer than six sets of “contradictions” about the firing. That is, it was six as of Tuesday.
Still, Legault expressed unshaken confidence in his serial self-“contradictor,” after firing Chassé for much less.
In a spirit of constructive criticism, I thought about suggesting a blanket 48-hour embargo on reporting anything a member of the Legault government says.
This would give them time to think about what they mean after they say it, since they apparently don’t think about it before.
The problem is that it’s only after what they say is reported that they realize they didn’t mean it. And it’s only then that they can tell us what they did mean.
In the election, Legault got off the hook after he admitted “I am not perfect.” But that will work only so many times before the question becomes whether the premier of Quebec is even competent.