Deputy prime minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland arrives to hold a news conference at the G20 Summit in Rome, Italy, on Oct. 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Deputy PM Freeland writes to Air Canada’s board about CEO’s comments on French

Deputy PM Freeland writes to Air Canada’s board about CEO’s comments on French

OTTAWA — Canada’s deputy prime minister has written to Air Canada’s board of directors, urging that its CEO improve his French and that his knowledge of the language be included in his annual performance review.

In her letter, Chrystia Freeland asked that knowledge of French become an important criterion for securing promotions at the airline, which is subject to the Official Languages Act.

Freeland sent the letter to Vagn Sorensen, chairman of the airline’s board of directors, following controversy started by CEO Michael Rousseau’s mostly English speech to the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal last week.

Rousseau had told reporters after his speech that he had been too busy to learn French and said he had no trouble living in English in Quebec for 14 years. The comments sparked backlash across the province.

“I’ve been able to live in Montreal without speaking French, and I think that’s a testament to the city of Montreal,” he said. Asked why he hadn’t learned the language, Rousseau replied: “If you look at my work schedule, you’d understand why.”

The next day, Rousseau released a statement offering an apology in both languages.

“I want to make it clear that in no way did I mean to show disrespect for Quebecers and Francophones across the country,” Rousseau’s statement read. “I apologize to those who were offended by my remarks.”

Freeland expressed the federal government’s “disappointment” with Rousseau’s comments and argued it was “utterly inconsistent with the company’s commitment to both official languages that has been in place for decades.”

She also said the board of directors should conduct a review of its policies and practices relating to the airline’s use of French and should make those results public.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 8, 2021.

The Canadian Press

Air Canada