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Prime Minister Stephen Harper gestures as he responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday December 8, 2010. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper gestures as he responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday December 8, 2010. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe Editorial

Political language to avoid in 2011 Add to ...

Canada was on constant political alert in 2010, waiting for a federal electoral writ to drop. In the run-up to the election that never was, Canadians suffered much misused and overused political vocabulary. These words and ideas ought to depart in 2011.

Take the idea of "prison time." The federal government spoke of imaginary prison time, incurred by brave Canadians who refused to fill out the census (no such sentence has ever been meted out). Meanwhile, it ignored the real hard time and hard costs its new sentencing policy would create.

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Speaking of the census, "long-form" will make a welcome exit from speech, but an unwelcome one in deed, in 2011. It worked well enough as a rallying point, but the threat to Canada's statistical integrity wasn't enough to shift the polls or force the federal government to change a misguided policy.

Hard-to-touch "strategic assets" stood as a frequent misnomer in 2010. The federal government, pushed by Saskatchewan, declared a single company - Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc., majority-owned by non-Canadians - to be strategic.

Maybe what we really need is an "adult conversation" on strategic assets. Countless opinion leaders exhorted Canadians to have one, usually on health care and the apparent insurmountability of medicare's cost curve. But it wasn't limited to that: On energy production, taxes of various kinds and deficit elimination, Canadians are apparently not willing to discuss the tough choices before them. A prediction for next year: We will know we are having an adult conversation when we stop hearing that we need one.

What portents for coalitions in 2011? Canadians were told by Stephen Harper to focus on the imaginary coalition of 2008 at the expense of the real, and more interesting one, that actually governs in Britain. The British coalition, meanwhile, may have something to teach Canadians about something spoken of at length, but not yet practised, in Canada: austerity.

The "coalition" that dares not speak its name, the federal opposition parties, would do well, by contrast, to start overusing some political vocabulary. Their scattered attacks on the issues of the day, rather than a sharp focus on one or two issues with identifiable words, have left them, at the end of 2010, rather dispirited.

With referenda, party leadership races or elections in at least seven provinces and territories, and with a minority government at the federal level, there is one political word that most Canadians will have to come to terms with in 2011, and on which it is hard to dissemble or mislead: vote.

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