The Jean Poutine incident was quite overblown.

Rick Mercer, of the Canadian satirical newscast This Hour Has 22 Minutes, frequently makes trips to the United States to ask Americans what they think about made-up issues, like how to solve Alaska-Newfoundland fishing disputes. The humour in these exchanges stems from Americans' ignorance of their quiet neighbour and biggest trading partner. Lots of Canadians, including me, find most of these comedy bits pretty funny, if a little cruel.

Mercer has shown up dozens of average Americans, plus a few prize targets, like university students and professors (he got students and faculty at a very prestigious school to sign a petition calling for an end to the bogus practice of putting old people out on ice floes to die... unless it was maybe to stop the Saskatchewan seal hunt) and the governor of Arkansas (who congratulated Canada on preserving its fictitious national igloo).

During the 2000 presidential campaign, he went after George W. Bush. Mercer approached the candidate as he left the podium at a campaign rally in Michigan. The room was big, noisy, and echoey, and Mercer hollered the question at Bush from about eight feet away.

"Mr. Bush! A question from Canada!" he began (as I remember it; I've seen the segment three or four times but haven't memorized it), just as Bush was about to vanish through a side door and be hustled to his next appearance. "Sir, Prime Minister Jean Poutine has endorsed your candidacy and says you'd make the best president! What's your reaction?"

Bush replied with boilerplate stuff about how he was glad to hear that, the prime minister is a smart guy who's done good things, and Canada's very important to the United States. Then he was gone.

The joke is that the Canadian prime minister's name was "Jean Chrétien," not "Jean Poutine." Poutine is a Québécois junk food made of french fries, cheese curds and gravy. (If you've never had it, trust me that it's much better than it sounds.) Also, Mercer seemed to be saying, Americans don't know much about Canada and George W. Bush, besides being rather a dim bulb in the first place, really knows nothing about it.

Yeah, well, it was Mercer who said "Jean Poutine." Bush didn't even repeat it, let alone come out with that name himself. The "Bushism" that made the Canadian press and trickled into some American media really just consisted of not correcting the questioner. And it was less than 10 seconds of sound bite on his way out of an auditorium, not an in-depth interview where Mercer made the reference repeatedly.

So give the guy a break already. He says enough dumb things for real, without inventing others.

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