Al Gore strode into Montreal Friday evening and the city embraced him as one of its own. In fact, I can’t quite imagine that he gets quite this kind of welcome anywhere else.
First of all, his visit was sponsored by La Presse, which guaranteed a pretty compelling advance. And if the front page coverage wasn’t impressive enough, the full-colour special section on climate change would have to turn your head.
Before taking to the stage at the Place des Arts to deliver his now-famous slideshow, Gore was whisked off to the offices of Power Corporation – a name which perfectly describes the scope, if not the actual activities of the company in question – for a VIP reception hosted by Andre Desmarais and including the cream of the Montreal business and political community. Premier Jean Charest, Opposition leader Mario Dumont, Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe, former Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard, Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay and a host of other cabinet ministers and lesser dignitaries. (It only made me wonder: where was Stephane Dion?)
Once Gore took to the stage, it quickly became clear why the denier community hates him so fervently. The man can work a room – even a room stuffed with 3,000 people. He delivered the now-famous Inconvenient Truth presentation pretty much as he did in the Academy Award-winning movie version, hitting all the bases, telling all the jokes. He even found time to work in the self-deprecating reference to the day’s unseasonal snowfall, saying, “The weather today was completely refusing to cooperate with my message.”
There were a few differences in the program. The slides were all in French, and a few were slightly modified for Canadian content. And he pitched some of his comments more directly to the Canadian audience. He said, for example, that “What we decide to do in this decade will affect the whole course of human history,” and at such a time “the world looks to Canada.”
He said that Quebec has such an influence in Canada, that Canada has such influence in North America and that North America has such influence in the world that that action those in the audience had a responsibility to act and a real hope that their actions would be worthwhile.
A final difference, in this presentation, was the passion – perhaps even anger and frustration – that he brought to the delivery. Although he pretty carefully avoided commenting on the current U.S. administration – “with which I fear I am losing my objectivity” – he seemed more obviously emotional than he was in the film or than he has been in the presentations attended by others in this audience.
He certainly touched a chord. The standing ovation was quick, convincing and prolonged.
So, it turns out that finding Al Gore was not really that difficult: in Montreal, at least, you just have to follow the applause.