There’s some controversy surrounding Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau’s ability to speak French, and boy is this awkward…
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Air Canada CEO criticized for his French
Canada has the Official Languages Act, which makes both English and French the official languages of Canada, and requires businesses to serve customers in the language that they prefer. Sometimes this causes issues, since not everyone in Canada speaks French at all, let alone well. This is even something that Air Canada has been sued over in the past.
That brings us to Air Canada’s CEO. Air Canada is based in Montreal, and the company’s new CEO gave his first major speech on Wednesday since assuming his current role. The speech was 26 minutes long, and only about 20 seconds of it were in French.
After the speech he took questions from reporters. A French journalist asked him (in French) how he has been able to live in Montreal for 14 years while speaking so little French. In response to this, Rousseau said:
“Can you redo that in English? Because I want to make sure I understand your question before I respond to it.”
The journalist said he’d rather that Rousseau’s representative translate the question. She responded that Rousseau had already addressed that question in his speech. At that point the journalist repeated the question in English:
“How can you live in Montreal without speaking French? Is it easy?”
Rousseau responded with the following:
“I’ve been able to live in Montreal without speaking French, and I think that’s a testament to the city of Montreal.”
You can watch the interaction for yourself here:
What Air Canada’s CEO has to say
Rousseau is facing widespread criticism from those in Quebec, including:
- Quebec Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette stating “the big boss of Air Canada expresses everything we rejected decades ago: contempt for our language and our culture at home in Quebec,” and also said that “these words are unworthy of the role he occupies”
- Quebec Liberal Party Leader Dominique Anglade called the comments “appalling and disrespectful,” and stated that “Air Canada frankly does not understand the impact of its decisions” to appoint a CEO who doesn’t speak French
- The President of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada stated that Rousseau “must apologize for his insensitive attitude and his lack of respect for francophones”
Following this incident, and with the amount of backlash the airline has received, Rousseau has issued a statement. He apologized to those who were offended by his remarks, and pledged to improve his French. Here’s the statement:
“I want to make it clear that in no way did I mean to show disrespect for Quebecers and francophones across the country. I apologize to those who were offended by my remarks. I pledge today to improve my French, an official language of Canada and the common language of Québec, while tackling the serious commercial challenges facing Air Canada as we move from surviving the pandemic to rebuilding to normalcy. The fact that this iconic company is headquartered in Montreal is a source of pride for me and our entire executive team. I reiterate Air Canada’s commitment to show respect for French and, as a leader, I will set the tone.”
Air Canada’s new CEO faced backlash after not being able to answer basic questions in French following a speech in Montreal yesterday. Air Canada is based in Montreal, and Rousseau has lived there for 14 years. He has now apologized, and pledged to improve his French.
What do you make of this French controversy at Air Canada?