Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau has apologized and committed to improving his French amid heavy backlash by federal and Quebec officials, including the premier today, who called Rousseau’s comments on Wednesday shocking and disrespectful.
On Wednesday, the CEO delivered a 26-minute speech at the Palais des congrès in Montreal, during which he only spoke French for about 20 seconds. After the speech, Rousseau was asked in French by a journalist for Quebec TV news channel LCN how he’s managed to live in Montreal for so long despite speaking little French.
He was unable to answer the question and asked that it be posed in English. When pressed, he said despite living in Quebec for 14 years, he’s too busy running a company to learn French.
“I’ve been able to live in Montreal without speaking French, and I think that’s a testament to the city of Montreal,” Rousseau said.
WATCH | Air Canada CEO struggles to answer questions in French:
CEO issues apology
On Thursday morning, Rousseau issued a statement apologizing for his comments and promising to commit to improving his French.
“I want to clarify that I did not want in any way to disrespect [Quebecers] and francophones across the country. I apologize to those who were offended by my words,” Rousseau said.
He noted that he told journalists he would, in fact, like to be able to speak French.
“Today, I am committed to improving my French, the official language of Canada and the language used in Quebec,” he said.
“The head office of this emblematic company is located in Montreal and it is a source of pride for me as for my entire management team. I reiterate Air Canada’s commitment to show respect for French and, as a leader, I will set the tone.”
‘It’s insulting,’ premier says
Several elected officials in Quebec and Ottawa have criticized Rousseau’s initial comments.
On Thursday, Premier François Legault became the latest public figure to denounce Rousseau’s attitude about the French language.
“It’s insulting. It makes me angry, because [of] his attitude to say ‘I have been in Quebec 14 years and I did not have to learn French,’ ” said Legault on the sidelines of the COP26 environmental summit in Scotland.