MONTREAL — A suggestion that last year’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver lacked French content because of a Quebec nationalist hero has gotten a chilly response from sovereigntists.
Parti Quebecois spokesman Pierre Curzi says it’s scandalous to suggest organizers didn’t have more French in the 2010 Olympics opening ceremonies because Quebec songwriter Gilles Vigneault wouldn’t let them use his iconic song Mon pays.
Curzi said on Tuesday that Vigneault was “absolutely right” to refuse to allow his song to be used at the opening ceremonies.
“But to blame him for the lack of French in the opening ceremonies of the Olympics is absolutely outrageous,” Curzi added.
Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong reportedly says in his new Olympic memoir “Patriot Hearts” that organizers had built a big production around the use of Mon pays, which evokes a stirring vision of Quebec in winter.
Organizers believed it would send a message of inclusiveness to even Quebec sovereigntists.
Vigneault didn’t see it that way.
He 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.
Organizers ditched the plan and went with another song, sung by popular Quebec singer Garou.
Mon pays, written in 1964, has become one of the anthems of the sovereigntist movement.
Mon pays, which translates as “my country,” was commissioned by the National Film Board of Canada from Vigneault for Arthur Lamothe’s 1965 film La Neige a fondu sur la Manicouagan.
A disco version with different lyrics and using the title From New York to L.A. was recorded in the 1970s by Patsy Gallant and was popular in English Canada and the United States but disowned by Vigneault.
The song was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005.
The opening words describe Vigneault’s country as winter and invokes bitter images of snow, ice and wind.
Olympic organizers even got Premier Jean Charest to try and get Vigneault to change his mind but the songwriter wouldn’t budge.
Some have interpreted that to be symbolic of Quebec’s cultural isolation in Canada rather than any comment on the weather.
Furlong’s defence of the ceremony comes after criticism by Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser, who said the opening ceremonies lacked in French content.
While there was more French spoken at the closing ceremonies, Fraser has said his office got more than 100 complaints during the Olympics, most about the opening ceremony.
Many francophones said they felt their language was treated as an afterthought.
Curzi tried to get a motion of support for Vigneault passed in the Quebec legislature on Tuesday but the bid failed because of resistance from the governing Liberals.
“If artists are the spokesmen for the people, it is the people of Quebec that Mr. Furlong has insulted,” Curzi said in the legislature.
“In refusing to adopt our motion, the Liberal government has added insult to injury,” he said, adding the Liberals failed to “defend one of Quebec’s greatest artists, reproaching Gilles Vigneault for having the integrity of his political convictions.”
Curzi also criticized Charest for trying to get Vigneault to change his mind.
“It is unworthy of his office,” he said.