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CN criticized for lack of French-speaking board members

By | May 11, 2022

Changes to come before the end of the year to add French-speaking members to the board, CN VP says

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Canadian Transport Minister Omar Alghabra has criticized Canadian National Railway Co. for maintaining an English-speaking-only board of directors in a bilingual nation where 7.9 million citizens – 22% of the population – speak French as their first language.

“It’s unacceptable that the board of directors does not have a francophone representative on it,” he was reported as saying Monday in Canada’s National Post.

Alghabra was speaking at a parliamentary committee meeting held to discuss languages. Canada’s 1988 Official Languages Act mandates dual use of English and French in publications and public meetings, but its enforcement is currently limited to government agencies, not private companies.

“I think it is really important that CN and others like Air Canada set a leadership example,” Alghabra said in his testimony before members of Parliament. “Of course, they have a responsibility to meet their obligation under the Official Languages Act. But even on things . . .  where the act was silent, they have a responsibility to demonstrate leadership.”

His mention of Air Canada, once owned by CN, referred to a firestorm stirred up by the airline’s CEO, Michael Rousseau, who last year made a mostly English speech before the Montreal Chamber of Commerce. He later admitted that his remarks were “insensitive” and began taking French lessons, repeating his apologies when testifying before the country’s Official Languages Committee.

Saying that CN had failed to learn from Air Canada’s gaffe, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau criticized the railway in April. That same month, a CN vice president, Sébastien Labbé, said the absence of a French-speaking member of the CN board would be remedied in the next year. Two directors’ terms are ending soon, which will give CN the opportunity to name new board members.

Alghabra spoke in favor of Parliament adopting a measure, C-13, to strengthen the Official Languages Act. Member of  Parliament Joël Godin asked Alghabra if he’d support amending the proposal to mandate that companies name a minimum number of French-speaking members, but he stopped short of endorsing that idea.

12 thoughts on “CN criticized for lack of French-speaking board members

  1. Oh, speaking of Government Gaffes and Air Canada, Quebec Province once tried to mandate air traffic control in the French language. Never mind that air traffic control is in English worldwide, even in North Korea, a nation with a government strongly resembling that of Trudeau fils.

    The Canadian government darned well ought to keep its paws off this private corporation (and instead concentrate on its real job, which is throwing Christian ministers into indefinite detention). Take a look at CNR’s map, eh? It’s operating hub is in a metro Chicago, where the second language is Spanish, but French is not spoken at all. Then, CNR goes south to Louisiana, ainsi alors, in parts of which the local French culture is Acadian. We all know how well the Acadians and the Quebecois get along in Canada.

    For God’s sake, everyone, stop policing ethnicity and language and quotas… just give it a rest. Bilingual for government business in Canada is a good thing. Mandating language for a private business through quota is quite another.

  2. Canada, find more important things to worry about. I am half-French-Canadien and not offended that the board doesn’t have a French speaker.

    1. I’m half Ukrainian but i doesn’t bother me that the CN Board doesn’t meet in Winnipeg, eh?

  3. South Africa has 37 official languages and in government, all of them must be accommodated. I wonder how you would run a company or airline that had to accommodate 37 languages? It would probably fall like the Tower of Babel.

    I don’t deny the right to want more people in leadership to speak Quebecois in Canada as it is part of its heritage, but can it be taken a bit too far?

    All CN has to do is offer French classes as a perk to any incoming board member who doesnt speak it today. Problem solved.

    1. Um. You realize that “Quebecois” is not a language, right? Your ignorance is showing.

      And this isn’t about South Africa, so that’s a red herring. Canada has two official languages. English and French.

      1. MIKE – Quebecois isn’t a language? Written down it’s French. Spoken, it’s incomprehensible. I have four years of High School French French and I can’t understand a single word of spoken Quebecois.

        South Africa is chasing its own tail language-wise. It’s unofficially sliding toward English and phasing out Afrikaans as business/ international languages … but on the other side has to please the black majority which is not a unified majority but a collection of language/ ethnic minorities. Meanwhile it does have the most gorgeous beautiful national anthem, verses sung in this order: Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans and English — and it’s absolutely forbidden to translate, it MUST be sung in those five languages or not at all. Look it up on You Tube. Its the best song ever sung.

      2. Mike, not sure where you are getting your information from but to the best of my knowledge, but Quebec French is Québécois French is the predominant variety of French spoken in Canada. It is the dominant language of the province of Quebec, used in everyday communication, in education, the media, and government.

      3. “Quebecois”
        ..the form of French spoken in Quebec.
        “I speak Parisian French, rather than Quebecois”

        From the Oxford Dictionary of Languages.

        I don’t deal in red herrings, I only write in support of old tropes, false narratives and strawmen. 🙂

  4. So Omar Alghabra wants CN to have a French Canadian speaking person on its would board. Even if that would eliminate an otherwise qualified person from serving? That may not be in the shareholders best interests. They need the best qualified people to serve regardless of the second languages they may speak, their sex, their race, etc.

  5. Remember, the Quebecois language separated from Continental French over 250 years ago. Would a Lancaster County PA Dutchman be understood in Berlin today?

    What about First Nation languages?

    1. Quebecois French is sometimes referred to as “Colonial French” and is more nasal in its expression. Where as Continental French is more gutteral in expression. Also slang and some verbs conjugate differently.

      I have heard of French Canadians getting a good chuckle when ordering food in Paris. Some ruder Parisian’s aren’t so gracious sometimes.

      Just like the Spanish spoken in Mexico City doesn’t translate 100% to the Castilian Spanish spoken in Madrid, Spain.

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