CN Rail pressed by the Federal Transport Minister over its ‘unacceptable’ English-only board of directors

‘Even on things that may be where the (Official Languages) Act was silent, they have a responsibility to demonstrate leadership,’ Omar Alghabra told the official languages ​​committee

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The Canadian National Railway Company (CN) got a symbolic slap on the wrist by Transport Minister Omar Alghabra for his absence of French speakers on his board of directors.

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

“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 meet their obligation under the Official Languages ​​Act. But even on things that may be where the act was silent, they have a responsibility to demonstrate leadership, ”said Alghabra during his testimony to MPs, Monday afternoon.

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

CN Rail has been heavily criticized in Quebec media over the past weeks after La Presse Revealed that the company’s board of directors had no former Quebec prime minister Jean Charest stepped down unexpectedly to join the federal Conservative leadership race. He had been Nominated to the board three weeks prior for a five-year Mandate.

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Julie Godin, the only other French-speaking board member before him, stepped down last fall to focus on her other professional duties. CEO Tracy Robinson will be the only member representing Quebec on the 11-member board and is said to be taking French Lessons.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not mince words towards CN Rail in April, saying he had been shocked to hear that the railway company had not learned from Air Canada’s Mistakes. CEO Michael Rousseau was chastised by politicians and media Alike for a predominantly English speech made 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 apologized afterwards for his comments which they 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.

CN Rail’s representatives were less apologetic when they were tested 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-speaking individuals on the company’s board of directors and said that the situation would be resolved in the next year, as two of their board members ‘mandates are ending. Labbé, who is from Quebec and speaks French, offered his opening statement in English only.

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The federal government has been urging MPs to adopt C-13, An Act to Amend the Official Languages ​​Act, to strengthen the law and give more powers to the official languages ​​watchdog, but has been facing resistance notably from the Bloc Québécois who sees it as a way of promoting bilingualism.

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

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

Godin then went on to ask if the government would be open to amending the C-13 to make sure boards of directors have a minimum of French-speaking members.

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

The federal government had presented 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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