One difficult aspect of the opening ceremonies was the French element, and not for a lack of effort on our part. David Atkins's team had developed a spectacular segment around the well-known Quebec song Mon Pays, a beautiful piece written and arranged in 1964 by well-known chansonnier Gilles Vigneault.
It would be perfect for the opening because it was such an iconic song in Quebec and it had a winter theme. The song's opening words are, " Mon pays, ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver" ("My country is not a country - it's winter"). The lyrics talked about the winds, cold, snow, ice and solitude of wide-open spaces.
I think David was also aware that the song had become a rallying anthem of sorts for Quebec nationalists. Gilles Vigneault was associated with the separatist movement, but we thought the song would send a strong message of how much we were embracing Quebec culture. After all, these were the Games for the many, not the few. It was incredibly important to us that we had this song.
David had to clear every piece of music that was going to be in the show with the rights holder. In this case, that person was Gilles Vigneault. It didn't take him more than a second to inform us it was a no-go unless strict conditions were met.
The first was that the song could not be performed anywhere where there was going to be a maple leaf displayed. And it could not be used in any kind of setting that effectively promoted Canada as a country that included Quebec. It was a devastating setback, as inflexible a position as I had ever encountered. Obviously, we were never going to give in to those outrageous demands.
I don't think David anticipated getting that kind of response. He had built an important section of the show around this song and poured his heart into it. Surely, something could be done to change this guy's mind, David said. He asked me to get involved.
I decided to start right at the top and try Jean Charest. I tracked him down in Russia, of all places. I asked if he could intervene and find someone with enough sway with Mr. Vigneault that he might acquiesce to our request. He tried, but a few days later phoned me back to say he had had no luck. He felt terrible, as if he were letting us down. The idea was now officially dead.
I was not happy. 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. I told the Premier on the phone, and others later, that I was not going to allow my people to be criticized about the French content in the opening, given the fact we were trying to do everything we could and were getting rebuffed.
We had to improvise and added a new song called Un peu plus haut, un peu plus loin ("A little higher, a little further"). We had Quebec pop star Garou sing it just before the cauldron was lit, which was the climax of the show. Still, I think everyone on the inside was disappointed by the fact our original plans were scotched.