John Robson: Beware the Governmental Word ‘Continue’

John Robson: Beware the Governmental Word ‘Continue’
Royal Australian Navy submarine HMAS Rankin during a maritime exercise in Darwin, Australia, on Sept. 5, 2021. The latest salvo in a barrage of stories about Canadian military unpreparedness is that because we’re not in the tripartite Australia-UK-U.S. AUKUS treaty we are missing out on vital discussions of cyberwarfare, writes John Robson. (POIS Yuri Ramsey/Australian Defence Force via Getty Images)
John Robson


The latest salvo in a barrage of stories about Canadian military unpreparedness is that because we’re not in the tripartite Australia-UK-U.S. AUKUS treaty we are missing out on vital discussions of cyberwarfare. It’s a serious matter indeed. But in discussing it I want to focus on spin rather than substance.

No, I’m not angling for a job with the government, ideally one of those cushy consulting gigs that are all the rage these days, and when Canadians see the cost, I do mean rage. On the contrary, I’m applying the principle that to understand what people are thinking, you should listen to what they are saying.

It even works on yourself, as in “How can I know what I think until I hear what I say?” And it certainly works on politicians. In this case the key point is that, confronted with a senior Canadian vice-admiral’s lament that we’re missing vital AUKUS discussions of “advanced technology in terms of the artificial-intelligence domain, machine learning, quantum, all of these things that really matter moving forward,” the defence minister’s office burbled, “Through the Five Eyes and our bilateral partnerships, we will continue to work with our closest allies to keep Canadians safe.”

Now it is obvious that this response attempts to change the subject, which was not the Five Eyes. But I want to draw your attention instead to a standard rhetorical trope of the Canadian government when confronted with some obvious, nay contemptible, lapse in performance of its core duties: that weasel word “continue.”

It appears remarkably often nowadays. For instance, when confronted over multiple lucrative contracts to the tyrant-friendly consulting firm McKinsey, whose former head became our ambassador to China, a Treasury Board spokesperson said, “We continue to maintain the highest standards of openness, transparency and fiscal responsibility.”
After wiping up your coffee you may be tempted to retort that this government is notorious for its refusal to disclose even basic information. Including, speaking of China, being held in contempt of Parliament for withholding unredacted documents on the mysterious firing of two scientists from our top infectious diseases lab. As for fiscal responsibility, it is to laugh given the Liberals’ accumulated debt. But here I want to caution against thinking they are lying.

People are widely disposed to regard themselves as well-meaning, ethical, and misunderstood. Especially if they adopt a victim mentality, they also feel justified in resorting to otherwise improper tactics. Indeed, one reason for discovering what you yourself think by listening attentively to what you say is to make sure you don’t hear excuses from your mouth you would reject from someone else’s. And if you do, it is wise to probe deeply not into your rhetorical strategy but your ideas.

The same is true of people in public life. We have learned repeatedly and painfully to take tyrants’ pronouncements about intentions seriously. Yet we so often say no, it’s just a cover for their real intention to accumulate “power” or something. It’s not. People want power to accomplish goals, they don’t want goals to accomplish power.

Thus, to continue continuing, when Canadian politicians declare that they will “continue” to do something they are not doing and would have no idea how to do if they tried, they are not lying. Far from it. They are conveying their sublime sense of their own excellence, due to which they must be performing their jobs superbly and only lying partisan enemies or mentally-defective “ideologues” could claim otherwise.

As so often, what you see is what you get. Including, for instance, the Heritage Department responding to an outcry over funnelling money to a virulent antisemite by insisting they did a “comprehensive assessment” first. To an outside observer it can only mean they deliberately funded hate or have no clue what “comprehensive” or “assessment” even mean. But to them it was an assurance that if mistakes were made, they naturally did not make them.
Such babblers are not unaware that, on the face of it, this or that particular file looks suspicious. But they are convinced that, despite their occasional PR or administrative missteps, they really are as great as they claim when campaigning for office. So the fact that Canada has no functioning national security apparatus, including we now learn no air defence system for our troops since 2012, does not signal failure to them, let alone negligence, just a prudent approach to procurement.

If this assessment seems improbable, consider that millions of your fellows vote for them election after election. If so many voters do not see those in power or their job performance the way we do, why should they themselves not yield to vanity and continue to grade their own work highly?

So beware this governmental word “continue.” Not because it means they’re fooling you. Because it means they’re fooling themselves.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
John Robson is a documentary filmmaker, National Post columnist, contributing editor to the Dorchester Review, and executive director of the Climate Discussion Nexus. His most recent documentary is “The Environment: A True Story.”
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