Rhetoric Revisited: Decennial Reflections on Canada's Coalition Crisis

Gregory Millard


This paper reassesses Canada’s “coalition crisis” of 2008 though a rhetorical analysis of the national addresses of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Opposition leader Stéphane Dion. Focusing especially upon the classical rhetorical categories of ethos (the speaker’s self-identification and positioning relative to the audience) and logos (the use of reason in argument), it explores how Harper and Dion construct divergent “legitimacy principles” in defence of their positions, arguing that Dion’s speech failed, not merely because of the poor production values which dominated commentary at the time, but because of an inferior ethos appeal marked by a mishandling of the key rhetorical icon of nationhood. When we consider argumentative substance, however, we find that Harper’s address was marred by a misrepresentation of key principles of parliamentary government. Because the crisis represented a potentially significant moment of political socialization – thus involving “constitutive” rather than “ordinary” political rhetoric – the paper argues that it is consistent with a realistic model of rhetorical ethics to condemn this misconstrual as a violation of the trust reposed in democratic leadership.


Coalition crisis; Stephen Harper; rhetoric; rhetorical ethics; parliamentary government; Canadian politics

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@Canadian Political Science Review (CPSR). ISSN 1911-4125