CN Rail pressured by federal transport minister for its board of directors ‘unacceptable’ in English only

“Even in things that may be where the (Official Languages) Law was silent, they have a responsibility to show leadership,” Omar Alghabra told the official languages ​​committee.

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The Canadian National Railway Company (CN) received a symbolic slap on the wrist from Transport Minister Omar Alghabra for the absence of Francophones on its board of directors.

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Speaking at a parliamentary committee on official languages ​​on Monday, Alghabra insisted the situation at CN Rail was “unacceptable” and said he had made it very clear to the company that it must be corrected even though the Official Languages ​​Act does not explicitly require its directory of directors to have a representation of Francophones.

“I think it’s really important that CN and others like Air Canada set an example of leadership. Of course, they have a responsibility to fulfill their obligation under the Official Languages ​​Act. But even in things that may be where the act was silent, they have a responsibility to show leadership,” Alghabra said during his testimony to MPs on Monday afternoon.

“It is unacceptable that the board of directors (of CN) does not have a Francophone representative,” he added, while admitting that federal intervention is limited, since CN Rail is a private corporation and cannot appoint directors.

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CN Rail has been heavily criticized in the Québec media in recent weeks after La Presse revealed that the company’s board of directors had no French-speaking members since former Quebec premier Jean Charest unexpectedly resigned to join the race for the federal Conservative leadership. He had been nominated to the board three weeks earlier for a five-year term.

Julie Godin, the only other French-speaking board member before him, resigned last fall to focus on her other professional duties. Executive director Tracy Robinson will be the only member to represent Quebec on the 11-member board and she is said to be taking French lessons.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made no bones about it towards CN Rail in April, saying he had been surprised to hear that the rail company had not learned from Air Canada’s mistakes. CEO Michael Rousseau was reprimanded by politicians and the media for a predominantly English-language speech delivered in front of the Montreal Chamber of Commerce last fall.

Rousseau told reporters at the time that he had been able to live in the province of Quebec without speaking French for 14 years and that he thought it was “a testament to the city of Montreal” that he had been able to do that. He later apologized for his comments which he admitted were “insensitive” and has been taking French lessons ever since.

Rousseau reiterated his apologies to MPs when he was asked to testify in front of the Official Languages ​​Committee on the “importance of official languages ​​at Air Canada” in March and even said a few sentences in French in his opening statement.

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CN Rail representatives were less apologetic when testifying in front of that same committee.

Sébastien Labbé, one of CN’s vice presidents, said in April that he was aware of the absence of French-speakers on the company’s board of directors and said the situation would be resolved next year, as two of its board members the board The mandates are over. Labbé, who is from Quebec and speaks French, gave his opening speech only in English.

The federal government has been urging parliamentarians to adopt C-13, a law to amend the Official Languages ​​Act, to strengthen the law and give more powers to the official languages ​​watchdog, but has faced resistance in particular from the Bloc Québécois who sees it as a way to promote bilingualism.

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Alghabra reiterated that plea to members of the official languages ​​committee on Monday, but it was met with little sympathy on their part.

“The problem is that I think the federal government is not leading by example,” responded Conservative MP Joël Godin, highlighting the fact that Prime Minister Trudeau appointed Mary Simon as Canada’s first Inuk Governor-General last year. even though he doesn’t speak French fluently. her and she is taking lessons to perfect it.

Godin then asked if the government would be open to amending the C-13 to ensure boards have a minimum of French-speaking members.

“We know that the two organizations we are talking about, CN and Air Canada, are private companies. …Having said that, I don’t want to preempt your committee’s study. I know they are going to study it thoroughly, ”said Alghabra, who encouraged his colleagues to vote for the second reading of this bill.

The federal government had introduced a first bill to modernize the Official Languages ​​Act in June 2021, but it died when Prime Minister Trudeau called an election.



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