Discover more from Nora Loreto
Poilievre gets his chance to say the n-word in Parliament
And no one seemed to notice.
If the n-word falls in the middle of the Canadian House of Commons and there are hundreds of people present, does it make a sound?
We got the answer to this age-old riddle yesterday and that answer is: no.
Yesterday was the first day back for parliamentarians and the day was nothing if not bombastic. Jousting between Justin Trudeau and Pierre Poilievre; affordability and housing crisis and grocery barons bandied about as the two men fought for whatever political capital could be squeezed out of the day. Jagmeet Singh and Yves-François Blanchet were there too, I think.
At the end of the day, the Liberals said that they had reason to believe that the Indian government played a role in the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a high-profile Sikh activist who was shot dead in the parking lot of a Surrey Gudwuara a few months ago.
When Pierre Poilievre’s time to extend his condolences to Nijjar’s family came up, he made a solemn statement: “Moments ago the Prime Minister made me aware of intelligence from his authorities linking the Indian government to the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Let me offer my condolences to the family of Hardeep Singh.” And then, in attempting to repeat Nijjar’s name, he first dropped the n-word.
A fully-formed, this-guy-has-said-this-word-before-level n-word.
He didn’t flinch. Neither did anyone in the background behind him.
Erica Ifill flinched though. Watching the proceedings live, she posted: “DID PIERRE POILIEVRE SLIP AND SAY N****R? I got to replay this…” She did replay it and he indeed said it.
Predictably, white commentators were quick to point out how close Nijjar’s name is to the n-word and that, of all the sins we can detail of Poilievre, this one isn’t fair. It was a mistake. An error. It could happen to anyone.
National Post columnist Colby Cosh called it “a meaningless tongue-slip” but most people in journalism said nothing at all.
But here’s the thing: Canada has already created a bar for what is and is not acceptable to say accidentally in the house of commons. From Trudeau himself blursting out You Piece of Shit at Peter Kent while Kent was straight-up lying, to Michelle Rempell grabbing her mouth like a five year old after letting the shit word cross her lips, there is precedent for this before.
Hell, Pierre Trudeau’s infamous Fuddle-Duddle comment became so legendary that I know about it despite it happening more than a decade before i was born.
And it isn’t like this is the first time Poilievre has said something racist in the House of Commons.
But the same kind of attention isn’t going to happen with the n-word and we can lay the blame for that the feet of Canada’s too-white media and political establishments. This is not a word that bothers them as much as a “piece of shit” does. It’s a mistake that anyone could make. Hell, maybe even one of them has been worried they too will make the same error.
White anxiety that surrounds saying the wrong thing is tiresome, and that anxiety is ratcheted up to 11 when the wrong thing happens to be the n-word. Saying the n-word is an instant cancelling — if you say it on purpose. If it tumbles out of your mouth by accident, that’s forgivable, lest we not also be judged ourselves.
Except to even have the n-word at the tip of our tongue, whether it’s when we see a word that is written similarly though pronounced absolutely differently, or whether it’s the name of a country we care to know nothing about (and therefore only say it never), it still means that it’s at the tip of our tongue. Or more specifically, it’s at the tip of Poilievre’s tongue. Does he use the n-word in private company? Is this a word he’s used to saying? Did his lack of even flinching when he made the mistake proof that he’s practiced what to do if the n-word accidentally falls out from its cage that he’s placed in the top-right corner of his mouth? What kind of 44-year old is so familiar with saying that word that it would come more naturally than the name Nijjar?
I ask these questions because I genuinely don’t know. I don’t know. And I’ll never know because there is not likely to be any journalist who uses their two questions up on asking Poilievre such things. And Poilievre gains nothing by drawing attention to it so it’s unlikely he’ll have a special press conference to discuss his clumsy, racist accident.
Now it should be made clear — this is not the big news from yesterday. It doesn’t warrant more than a little bit of attention, a follow up-question, perhaps a story or two. It merits being noted, it doesn’t merit being used in the way that the far right has used Trudeau’s “I’ve done Blackface so much I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done Blackface.” But let us also be clear — if it were Trudeau who had said the n-word, or Chrystia Freeland, or a backbench NDPer or even another member of Poilievre’s caucus, one, say with a history of meeting with proto-fascists who accidentally said the n-word while honouring the death of someone who was shot and killed at a place of worship (I mean, my god, get this one right for like 50 different reasons, Pierre), it would be a far bigger story.
But the assumption here is that Poilievre is probably not racist. Or, he’s probably not actively and openly racist. He just made a mistake. This is a distraction from the real issues, like affordability and competence — you know, the kind of competence that the next Prime Minister might need to possess to make sure that the n-word doesn’t just accidentally tumble from his lips in the middle of a parliamentary debate.