Air Canada CEO sparks anger with statement on living in Montreal “without speaking French”

When Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau was asked in French how he had managed to live in Quebec’s largest city for 14 years without speaking French, Rousseau paused and asked that the question be asked. in English.

In a 26-minute speech at the Palais des congrès de Montréal moments before, Rousseau spoke French for only about 20 seconds. Although his understanding of the language is “correct,” he has difficulty speaking it, he said.

The ordeal drew rapid criticism from federal and provincial politicians as well as from several Quebec commentators.

Several pointed out that Air Canada is subject to the Official Languages ​​Act and must therefore serve customers in English and French, depending on the customer’s preference.

The Montreal Chamber of Commerce invited Rousseau to speak about the resumption of Air Canada after the pandemic. It was his first big speech since he was appointed CEO of the company, which was once a crown corporation, in February. He has held various positions within the company’s general management since 2007.

After the speech, Rousseau was asked in French by a journalist from the Quebec television news channel LCN how he managed to live in Montreal for so long despite his “rough” French.

Rousseau paused and said, “Can you do this again in English?” Because I want to make sure I understand your question before answering it.

The reporter said he preferred Rousseau’s press secretary to translate the question for her, but she replied that he addressed it in his speech.

Finally, the reporter asked the question in English, saying: “How can you live in Montreal without speaking French?” Is it easy?

Rousseau stopped again.

“I was able to live in Montreal without speaking French, and I think that’s a testament to the city of Montreal,” Rousseau said.

He was also asked why he had not made a commitment to learn French, replying that “if you look at my work schedule, you would understand why”.

Politicians condemn Rousseau, Air Canada

Michel Leblanc, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, said he was disappointed that Rousseau’s speech contained very little French, “and that the CEO of Air Canada did not publicly declare that his intention was to learn the French “.

Raymond Théberge, Commissioner of Official Languages ​​for Canada, has said he hopes Rousseau will commit to doing so.

“Mr. Rousseau, like any CEO of a company subject to the Official Languages ​​Act, should be able to communicate in the official languages,” Théberge said in an interview with Radio-Canada.

Quebec Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette – who is responsible for Bill 96, the controversial and radical overhaul of the province’s French law – was quick to share his condemnation on Twitter.

“The big boss of Air Canada expresses everything that we rejected decades ago: contempt for our language and our culture at home in Quebec,” Jolin-Barrette wrote in French.

“These words are unworthy of the role he occupies.”

Federal Minister of Official Languages ​​Ginette Petitpas Taylor also criticized Rousseau for his lack of French, saying on Twitter that “Air Canada provides an important service to Canadians. It must do so in both official languages ​​- and its leaders must be an Example. “

Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet said on Twitter that Quebec, the only province with French as an official language, pays 20% of the government grants Air Canada receives.

Dominique Anglade also reacted, describing Rousseau’s remarks as “appalling and disrespectful” and declaring that “Air Canada frankly does not understand the impact of its decisions”, to appoint a CEO who does not speak adequate French.

The Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities of Canada (FCFA), an organization representing Francophone and Acadian communities in Canada, asked Rousseau to apologize.

“He must apologize for his insensitive attitude and his lack of respect for Francophones,” said Federation President Liane Roy.

“If the Commissioner of Official Languages ​​had the power to issue orders and impose sanctions … maybe it would be taken more seriously,” added Roy.

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