French excuse falls flat

An explanation about why there was almost no French spoken at the opening ceremony of last year’s Vancouver Olympics was picked apart and pilloried in Quebec on Wednesday.

MONTREAL — An explanation about why there was almost no French spoken at the opening ceremony of last year’s Vancouver Olympics was picked apart and pilloried in Quebec on Wednesday.

The target of the growing pile-on was Games CEO John Furlong, whose accounts on the issue of French were systemically countered by some of the players in his new book.

Those unhappy book subjects include a legendary Quebec songwriter, a prominent sports columnist and Canada’s commissioner of official languages.

In Patriot Hearts, Furlong wrote the ceremony lacked French content because Quebec nationalist hero Gilles Vigneault refused to let organizers use his song Mon pays.

That allegation didn’t go down well in Quebec, where the counter-arguments were flying everywhere, including the provincial legislature.

In an excerpt from Patriot Hearts that appeared over the weekend, Furlong wrote organizers had built a big production around the use of Mon pays, which evokes a stirring vision of Quebec in winter.

But Furlong said Vigneault balked and told organizers his song was not to be sung in any place where the Canadian flag flew or in any production that suggested Canada included Quebec.

In an interview published in Le Devoir on Wednesday, Vigneault took organizers to task.

“They asked for a translated and truncated song,” he explained. “That’s what was proposed. You don’t amputate a song: either you use a song in its entirety or you don’t use it at all.”

Vigneault said he would have refused even if organizers had agreed to use the song as is.

The ceremony wound up including almost no spoken French — one of Canada’s official languages — although it did include one French song performed by popular Quebec singer Garou.

For the second time in as many days, the Opposition Parti Quebecois attempted to table a motion reprimanding Furlong and supporting Vigneault, but the governing Liberals blocked it, not keen to pursue the debate.

“Mon pays,” written in 1964, has become one of the anthems of the sovereigntist movement.

St-Pierre said aside from the opening ceremonies, French and francophones were well represented at Olympic venues and installations.

A firebrand sports columnist, Rejean Tremblay of Montreal La Presse, also took exception to the way Furlong recounted an exchange between the two at the Olympics.

He said Furlong introduced Jean Charest as a guest of honour at an event early in the Games and then sat impassively as the Quebec premier delivered a lengthy speech in French. He said Furlong left his simultaneous translation earphones sitting on the table the entire time.

Tremblay said he then asked a question at a news conference, in French, to see if Furlong had actually been paying attention to anything the premier had said.

“(Furlong) turned red, then white, then multicoloured as he delivered a garbled answer,” Tremblay wrote in Wednesday’s paper.

“But what do you expect when one is so rude as to not listen to a speech by a premier, who’s a guest of honour, for 10 minutes?”

In his book, Furlong describes the question from Tremblay as a “cheap shot intended to put me off balance.” He also says Tremblay had demanded an answer in French. Tremblay denies that.

According to his own recollection, Tremblay says he invited Furlong to answer in English if it was easier for him — because he simply wanted to check to see whether he had been ignoring everything Charest was saying.

Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser also took issue with Furlong’s recollection of events.

He disputed Furlong’s assertion that the federal commissioner’s office offered little assistance or advice, and was content to simply criticize the lack of French.

In a letter published Wednesday, Fraser countered that his staff had intervened on a number of occasions and that his office had even commissioned a study whose recommendations were implemented.

In an interview with The Canadian Press last week in advance of his book tour, Furlong said dealing with Fraser’s office was a challenge.

“The problem was that for me, he made a comment when the Games were over . . . that we didn’t understand our mandate,” Furlong said.

”We absolutely did understand our mandate.

“If we understood one thing, we understood that, but the environment we were working in was very difficult. And people knew it, everyone knew it and they knew what we were trying to manage around.”

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