Still smarting from criticism over the lack of French at last year’s Olympic opening ceremonies, John Furlong, the CEO for the Vancouver games, just can’t let go. He has set out his defence in a new book, and a more self-pitying, self-indulgent exercise in trying to justify the indefensible is hard to imagine.
This was the show that, other than the official speeches and introduction of athletes, which were in both French and English, was almost entirely in English. How could anyone blame francophones for thinking -the moment that Donald Sutherland read, in English translation, a poem by 19thcentury French-Canadian notary Francois-Xavier Garneau -that excluding French was an actual goal ?
But whom does Furlong blame for the linguistic debacle ? Gilles Vigneault. According to Furlong, the Australian who headed the show production team worked up a "spectacular segment" around Vigneault’s iconic song Mon pays ( "ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver"). He did this before asking Vigneault, as well-known a separatist as Rene Levesque, for his permission.
Vigneault said sure, as long as there were no maple leafs in view. Nor could the song be performed in a context that showed Quebec as part of Canada.
This was a "devastating setback," Furlong wrote. Vigneault was "inflexible," his demands "outrageous." Furlong asked Premier Jean Charest to intervene. A federalist premier begging one of the province’s most committed independentistes to allow his song to be performed as part of a rah-rah-Canada ! ensemble ... why would anyone think this would work ?
But this is Furlong’s take : "Here we were trying to do everything we could to design a powerful Quebec moment into the opening ceremonies, and we were being told we couldn’t."
Huffily, he informed Charest that he would not allow his people to be criticized over lack of French content, "given the fact that we were trying to do everything we could and were getting rebuffed."
"Everything we could" amounted to asking Celine Dion, who was pregnant, and Vigneault, who was a separatist, to be involved. There was no Plan B.
We can only assure French-speaking Canadians that Furlong does not represent English Canada.