The CEO of Air Canada is being criticized for admitting he doesn’t speak French after delivering a mostly-English speech in Quebec, where French is the official language of the government, commerce and the courts.
Michael Rousseau, CEO of Air Canada, gave the speech to business leaders in Quebec earlier this month. Rousseau answered questions from the media after the speech, the first of which he did not understand because it was asked in French, forcing him to admit his lack of French understanding.
‘My comprehension isn’t as good as I’d like it to be,’ he told the media after asking the reporter to repeat the question in English.
Rousseau, who has lived in Quebec for nearly 14 years, told reporters that learning French wasn’t a ‘priority’ and that living Montreal without knowing French was ‘easy.’
Michael Rousseau, CEO of Air Canada, has been highly-criticized by the public and members of the country’s government after he admitted he did not speak French
Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s deputy prime minister and finance minister, wrote the company’s chairman a letter recommending that ‘Knowledge of French’ be added as a job requirement
Following his admission, Canada’s deputy prime minister and finance minister Chrystia Freeland wrote a letter to the chairman of Canada’s biggest airline suggesting that ‘Knowledge of French’ be added as a job requirement.
She specifically noted Rousseau’s inadequate knowledge of French recommending that ‘significant improvement’ in his French ‘should be incorporated as one of his key performance goals.’
The CEO’s confession drew a wave of harsh criticism with some even calling for his removal. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau deemed the situation ‘unacceptable’ and Quebec Premier François Legault called it ‘insulting.’
Rousseau’s comments were considered so egregious that even the president of the Quebec Community Groups Network, which represents English-language groups, Marlene Jennings condemned the CEO.
‘Mr. Rousseau’s narrow-minded comment that he does not feel the need to learn French feeds the myth that English-speaking Quebecers are a privileged minority indifferent to French,’ Jennings said. ‘His attitude simply does not reflect the values of our community.’
The controversy of the CEO one of Quebec’s largest businesses seeming to dismiss the French language added to fuel to the current fight Francophones have taken to the legislature.
Bill 96 is currently in the committee stage but may have been given added strength by Rousseau’s recent scandal.
Rousseau, who has lived in Quebec for nearly 14 years, has never learned French despite it being the official language of the government, commerce and the courts in the province
Air Canada is one of Quebec’s largest business, making the province a transportation hub
Justin Trudeau called Rousseau’s remarks and failure to learn French ‘unacceptable’
The bill seeks to add clauses to the Canadian Constitution to acknowledge Quebec as a ‘nation’ and declare French its official language. It enhances the French Language Charter by setting clear markers to enhance the use and importance of French in the province.
For years Francophones have worried about the encroachment of English in the mostly-French speaking province. Bill 96, An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec, establishes several measures to reinforce French as the dominant language.
The proposed law would require: all businesses with 25 or more employees to function entirely in French- that number is currently set at 50, commercial signage include predominantly larger text in French, a 17.5% maximum of Francophone students allowed to attend English-language colleges, the removal of renewability of visas allowing children whose parents are on work visas to attend English schools, English-language services provided to immigrants to be diminished, and the removal of the requirement for all provincial judges to be bilingual.
If passed, the bill would come as the first major overhaul of Bill 101, the seminal language legislation the Parti Quebecois government passed in 1977.
The dominance of French in Quebec has slowly declined over the past century but Franchophones worry the dip will quickly steepen in 15 years. While in 2016 an estimated 95% of Quebecers spoke French, projections show that number could drop to 70% by 2036, The Washington Post reported.
Bill 96 is seen by some as strengthening the province’s identity while opponents claim the bill will negatively impact Quebec.
Some critics have claimed that the strict enforcement of French will deter businesses, educational institutions, and immigrants from the area.