I have not been so nervous to make a speech in more than twenty years. I remember my history, my ancestors, and my passing. The weight of all I remember as a Canadian faced me, as I sat to give my testimony, in the Red Room of the National Assembly.
The figures in the painting above the President were staring down at me as I took my seat. They did not embrace me. They rather demanded obliquely to acquit myself in a manner that did not dishonor them or this place.
In the Red Room, the Canadian flag still hangs alongside the Fleur de Lys . It reminds of the frayed thread that connects our two founding nations; an increasingly fragile connection that binds us to our origins. Our origins when the word Canadian was a pejorative way to distinguish the citizens of France from those of New France.
The President of the Commission sat comfortably in her Chair. She exuded grace and charm yet gave not an inch when it came to the formality and gravity of the proceedings. She could not be considered pompous but nor in any way did she disappoint her ancestors hanging in the painting above her.
The members present, the audience ranging from Enbridge partisans to the interested student in her business attire, filled in the scene. A scene I could never have imagined being a part of when I was growing up in Alberta.
In that scene I anxiously awaited my turn listening first to the Minister of Finance and then the Minister of Transport. What I heard as I listened, were all those voices who suggested I did not belong there. It was all feeling like an impending disaster as I considered surrendering and using the simultaneous translation.
I can thank my very good friend Mario Levesque who seeing me waiver, said ‘Michael your French is good and they need to hear from the leader of the industry in Quebec on energy issues’.
In the end it went well. I have certainly given worse speeches in English. I did make some mistakes with my French. For example I tried to say portfolio and ended up saying wallet. The member from the Liberal party was very gracious and rephrased my answer on my behalf.
I have done business all around the world. Never have I experienced a culture more welcoming of someone who tries to speak their language. Even Mr Khadir kindly took time to welcome and congratulate me for my efforts en Francais.
The lesson I learned once again is, as Canadians we all need to hear from each other. If we feel barriers of language and culture, it is even more reason to talk to each other, not less. We won’t remember if we stop communicating. We will forget.
As the President of the Quebec Oil and Gas Association I argued for the reversal of line 9b being in the strategic interest of Quebecers. You can listen to me at this link.
Delivering such a small speech in the most important place in Canadian history, in my recently learned language, took all the confidence I could muster. On reflection I realize it takes at least as much confidence to listen with an open mind.
I am most pleased that the Commission recommended to accept the line 9b reversal as we argued for.