Thursday, 21 February 2008

Freedom to speak

I was absolutely horrified in the closing moments of the final luncheon at the PCMA Conference in Toronto when a young lady stood up to ask a question, and told Newt Gingrich and Jean Chr├ętien that she had waited six years for this very moment. At her tender age of 26, that seems like a very long time, no doubt. “Nothing good can come of this,” I thought. Sure enough, in one fell swoop she managed to insult our American friends, make strident political statements and bring the conclusion of an otherwise outstanding conference crashing to a halt. “America is a nation of idiots,” she declared as part of an anti-war rant. The room fell silent. I think many Canadians in the room feared that the good will we had built with our American friends might now be in jeapordy. Would they think we all feel that way? As good fortune would have it after the conference I had the opportunity to meet “La” (that’s what her name tag said). I had assumed she was some sort of political activist who had commandeered credentials and was using our forum as a platform for her views. Not so. She told me she had just learned of the PCMA conference and had been in business for only six days. She decided we were a good base from which to launch her aggressive global business plans - something about meeting planners and municipal planning that I didn’t understand. She was misinformed about PCMA, thinking this was a conference of travel agents. She told me she hoped that she hadn’t offended anyone, and I assured her that she had indeed. That said, in retrospect, we have to realize that if PCMA is going to invite political figures to speak at our conferences and then open the floor to questions, stuff like this is bound to happen sooner or later. My first inclination was that she should never have been given the opportunity to speak, but that is wrong. Every day most Americans ask God to bless their beautiful country and Canadians implore God to keep our land glorious and free. Perhaps God has answered our humble prayers by sending this citizen to remind us of our rights to freedom of speech, however misplaced her idealism was on that day. I shook her hand, wished her well, and forgave her inappropriate spontaneity.