CTV: Mr. Dion, the economy is now the issue on the campaign, and on that issue you've said that today that Harper has done nothing to put Canadians' mind at ease and offers no vision for the country. You have to act now, you say; doing nothing is not an option. If you were prime minister now, what would you have done about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper has not done.
SD: If I had been prime minister two-and-a-half years ago?
CTV: If you were the prime minister right now and not for the past two-and-a-half years.
SD: If I am elected next Tuesday, this Tuesday, it's what you are suggesting?
CTV: No, I am saying if you were hypothetically prime minister today ...
CTV: ... What would you have done that Mr. Harper has not done?
Murphy begins with a counterfactual condition: "If you were Prime Minister..." At this point, the time reference of the question is perfectly ambiguous; because the form of were is used to indicate counterfactuality rather than time reference, but Murphy clears that up with his next word: now. At this point, the hypothetical setting is established and the hypothetical question begins; Murphy asks, "...what would you..." Again, we have a verb would which is a past-tense form, but which is indicating counterfactuality rather than past time. But then Murphy clearly locates the question in the past time by using the
present perfect aspect "...have done...".
To recap, Murphy had the following options:
- what are you doing (no hypothetical, present time)
- what did you do (no hypothetical, past time)
- what would you do (hypothetical, present or future time)
- what would you have done (hypothetical, past time)
Of course, in imagination land, anything can happen, but it is reasonable to expect that apart from Dion being PM, other things, such as the dates of elections, have not changed. If Dion is Prime Minister at the time in question, then it is most likely because he was elected two years earlier. This is exactly what Dion takes the question to mean.
But Murphy denies this interpretation. He wants to know, "If you were the prime minister right now and not for the past two-and-a-half years." In other words, in his fantasy, Dion has suddenly become Prime Minister. But if the query is about Dion's prior actions, his sudden hypothetical PMship becomes irrelevant.
Unfortunately, because of Dion's status as a non-native speaker of English and Murphy's status as a native speaker, Murphy gets a free ride and Dion is said not to understand. Here, however, it is clearly Murphy who needs the English lesson, or at least a lesson in logic.