Thomas Mulcair shocked politicos recently by sharpening the NDP’s stance on a tender political issue, telling a Quebec-based news magazine in clear, unambiguous terms that he opposes the Energy East pipeline.

Except he didn’t.

The recently published August edition of L’actualité runs a Q & A with Mulcair, in which, responding to a question about the NDP’s stance on Energy East from L’actualité’s chief political correspondent Alec Castonguay, he is written to have said, “On est contre ce pipeline,” (We are against that pipeline). The story is not presently online (UPDATE: The modified version of the story has now been published online), but after the media website Ricochet ran a piece translating the section about Energy East on Thursday, the interview began to kick up a storm on social media and NDP officials quickly denied that the line in question represents their stance on Energy East and that Mulcair even spoke it.

“The edit in the magazine does not reflect what Mr. Mulcair said in the interview,” George Smith, the NDP leader’s executive and media assistant, told CANADALAND late on Thursday night.

Castonguay could not be reached for comment. A L’actualité employee told CANADALAND that the reporter is on a previously scheduled vacation for the month of July.

Charles Grandmont, a deputy editor at L’actualité, said that the magazine is in the process of publishing a modified version of the Mulcair interview. It will include a note stating that the NDP leader did not say verbatim, “On est contre ce pipeline,” as was originally stated, and that the piece has been modified to reflect this.

“We will not be giving an interview on this subject,” Grandmont told CANADALAND in an email.

An audio recording and transcript of the relevant segments of the interview given to CANADALAND by Smith further verify that Mulcair did not say the controversial sentence. In the interview, he toes a careful line of stating opposition to the pipeline as it is presently being proposed, while leaving the door slightly ajar to some other version of the project.

When asked, “What is your position on Energy East,” (0:00 of recording) Mulcair replies, “I took exactly the same position on this as on others like Kinder Morgan: You can’t have an approval for either of these projects right now, because there is a more credible, complete, reliable system of environmental assessment.” Then, after decrying the Harper government’s environmental record, Mulcair says (0:58 of recording), “So we, we cannot approve Energy East. Am I in favour of the principle of moving the product from west to east provided that we apply upstream the rules of sustainable development like the internalization of environmental costs, yes. But this, this will have a mitigating effect on the amount that can be produced, if you demand, that pollution is kept down—you force the polluter to pay, it is a basic principle of sustainable development.”

Here’s the partial transcript that Smith sent CANADALAND:

29:01

CASTONGUAY:

Vous parlez de Keystone XL, le Bloc québécois vous reproche beaucoup d’avoir d’être d’accord avec Énergie Est, et ils vont en faire une bataille électorale sûrement et tournée là-dessus. C’est quoi votre position sur Énergie est?

MULCAIR:

J’ai pris exactement la même position là-dessus que d’autres comme Kinder Morgan: tu ne peux pas avoir une approbation pour l’un ou l’autre de ces projets là en ce moment, parce qui y a plus de système crédible, complet, fiable d’évaluation environnemental. M. Harper pensait faire un cadeau à ces entreprises là en annulant largement les règles environnementales, que ça soit la loi sur les protections de l’eau navigable, la loi sur les espèces en périls, la loi sur les pêches – vous pouvez remarquer qu’il n’y a pas un des projets de M. Harper qui a vu le jour. Parce qu’il peut s’assurer de donner une licence réglementaire plus rapidement, en absence d’une licence sociale, ça se réalisera pas.

Donc nous on dit tu peux pas approuver Énergie est. Est-ce que je suis en faveur du principe de bouger du produit de l’ouest à l’est pourvu qu’on applique en amont les règles de développement durable comme l’internalisation du coût environnemental, oui. Mais ça, ça va avoir un effet atténuant sur la quantité qu’on peut produire, si tu exiges, que la pollution soit tenue – que tu forces le pollueur à payer, c’est un principe de base de développement durable. Mais l’idée d’amener – de créer ces emplois au Canada. C’est depuis 300 ans au Canada, on prend les richesses naturelles et on les exports à l’état brut, on laisse d’autres créer des emplois avec et puis on rachète qu’est-ce qu’ils créent. Ça pas bons sens.

Donc nous on dit créer les emplois à valeur ajoutée ici au Canada…

……..

31:56

CASTONGUAY:

Donc pour Énergie est avec évaluations environnementales actuelles?… C’est non?

MULCAIR:

Tu ne peux pas… C’est non.

CASTONGUAY:

C’est non parce qu’on évalue pas correctement.

MULCAIR:

Exactement.

CASTONGUAY:

Donc il faudra d’abord modifier ça….

MULCAIR:

Revenir à une système crédible, oui.

CASTONGUAY:

Et là, on pourrait l’étudier.

MULCAIR:

On pourrait l’étudier. Voilà…. en incluant les changements climatique, c’est à dire les gazes à effet de serre.

Castonguay’s original piece includes Mulcair saying that the NDP is open in principle to a west-east pipeline, and, depending on how “We are against that pipeline” is read, it need not express categorical and permanent opposition. However, the question of how to interpret the Q & A’s paraphrasing is overly subtle for the world of political messaging and journalists registered bewilderment at the blunt statement.

“So this, while still not quite as unequivocal as Bloc on the subject, is a bit surprising,” said Globe and Mail columnist Adam Radwanski on Thursday in tweet with a link to Ricochet’s translation.

After reading a copy of the transcribed interview Radwanski tweeted, “I’m obliged to note this *isn’t* that different from what New Democrats told me in Quebec a couple weeks ago.” Political opponents, however, were quick to point to the interview as an inconsistency and use it as an opportunity to score points against the party leading them in most polls.

“In English, Energy East is a *cornerstone* of Mulcair’s energy policy. In French, he’s against it. Amazing,” Gerald Butts, a lead advisor to Justin Trudeau, tweeted yesterday. 

On Facebook today, Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe called the statement a 180 degree reversal and wrote that, “Mulcair is about to become mired in the tar oil.”

While controversy swirls around Castonguay’s paraphrasing of Mulcair’s response, the dispute also raises a question about responsible practice in publishing question-and-answer pieces.

Q & A’s are nearly always paraphrased, and often, but not always, bear a note saying something to the effect of, ‘This interview was edited for length and clarity.’ No such note appears in the original L’actualité piece.

Although he cautioned that he had not read Castonguay’s story and is unfamiliar with standard practices of Quebec reporting, Ivor Shapiro, chair of Ryerson University’s School of Journalism, told CANADALAND that the contested line was, nonetheless, identifiable as paraphrasing.

“To me, it seems unlikely that a knowledgeable reader would expect a sophisticated and nuanced politician like Mulcair to make a five-word <<on est contre>> comment on a sensitive and controversial matter.”

Whether identifiable or not, L’actualité’s forthcoming revisions indicate that the way Mulcair was paraphrased might have helped with the article’s length, but not its clarity.

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Follow Jake Bleiberg on Twitter.

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